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Cimino: Say 'Hello in there' to seniors

I've been thinking about ... getting older.

The Carroll County Office of Family and Children's Services held the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Wednesday at Center Court in the TownMall of Westminster. It was free and open to the public and featured locally available services for seniors and their caregivers. The Secretary of Aging, Rona E. Kramer was the featured speaker. Katie Cashman, one of our local FCSCMD professionals wrote an excellent letter to the editor recently in the Carroll County Times naming some of the warning signs that elder abuse is taking place. I hope many people read her letter and are now more aware of the issue.

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As a former bank trust officer I can tell you that elder abuse knows no social or economic boundaries. There were times when we had to step in to protect a client in a nursing home or someone receiving care at home that wasn't appropriate. We had one client who was receiving dozens of requests for donations. They all looked like bills, so she paid them. When we investigated, we found that they were all coming from the same address in Arizona. She had become a "mark." It took time and effort to get her off those lists but we did it.

There were many times when I was on the phone or visiting with a senior client that I realized I was probably the only person they had talked to for a long time. I stayed on the phone or extended my visit a little bit. Loneliness is a curse of the elderly. As members of The Greatest Generation, they served our country in the military, came home and built our schools, churches, businesses and the community service organizations we enjoy to this day. They did what was expected of them and never asked for anything in return. They were proud to serve and I think sometimes that same pride is hurting them today because they won't ask for help.

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When I was growing up, my grandparents lived very near to us and I saw them every day. They were included in everything we did without a single thought otherwise. They were wise and shared their wisdom with us. We didn't realize until years later just how wise they were. The idea of someone hurting one of them is beyond my understanding. But what I do understand is that families are scattered all over now. Children move away and grandchildren only see their grandparents occasionally. Those ties that forged generations of respect have been weakened by distance and time.

It falls to those of us who are present, family or not, to fill the gap. Check on elderly neighbors or at least be aware of them. Offer to shop for them, offer a ride or maybe invite them to an event.

I am reminded of the lyrics of a song that Bette Midler sings, "Hello in There."

"You know that old trees just get stronger and old rivers get wilder every day, ah, but old people, they just grow lonesome, waiting for someone to say, 'Hello in there. Hello.'"

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So here is some excellent advice from the same song: "So if you're walking down the street sometime and you should spot some hollow ancient eyes, don't you pass them by and stare as if you didn't care, say 'Hello in there. Hello.'"

Audrey Cimino is executive director of The Community Foundation of Carroll County. She writes from Westminster.

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