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PUBLISHED: 1:15 PM on Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Keeping watch
Gatekeeper program to identify seniors in need of services
Helping an elderly person can be as simple as spotting a pile of newspapers on the stoop or noticing a change in appearance.

The Gatekeeper Project is a portion of Senior Wrap Around Services, which is funded through a City and Borough of Juneau Health and Social Services block grant.

The purpose of the project is to keep elders safe by training people to notice changes in routines, which may indicate deterioration on functioning.

"It's a method for serving isolated, frail senior citizens and providing them with customized services to stay in their homes as long as possible," said Marianne Mills, program director of Southeast Senior Services.

"This is a method of thing those seniors with regular community members who might encounter these people."

The gatekeeper role is the first in a four-part process for providing seniors with services. Other steps are a case management assessment of needs, a mental health evaluation and arranging for in-home services, such us light housekeeping.

Jessica Hadfield, project coordinator, trains local businesses and community members to identify seniors who may be in need of services.

"It doesn't have to be a tangible thing," Hadfield said. "It can be just a feeling that something isn't quite right."

Hadfield said that people may call Southeast Senior Services anonymously to refer a client. She said all referrals are assessed to determine the amount of services the senior needs. Signs to look for include confusion or memory loss, voiced thoughts of suicide, changes in appearance such as disheveled or poor hygiene, home in disrepair or unsanitary, no longer making monthly deposit at the bank, not paying bills and not getting fuel refilled. Gatekeepers are not expected to provide services to the elder, nor to fill the role of social workers or counselors.

"We're not looking to take people out of their homes or lose their independence. This isn't to take their way of life from them," Hadfield said.

Mills said seniors who may need services could be experiencing a slight change in their normal functions or could be dealing with confusion or depression.

"Some seniors are afraid that if people find out that they're confused or need help that they will be put in a nursing home," Mills said. "The whole emphasis is to help people stay in their homes safely before they fall or go to a nursing home."

People older than 60 have the highest rate of suicide, according to Southeast Senior Services. Mills said that by assessing an elder who is referred, the cause of the problem can be identified.

"Sometimes an older resident gets confused and might leave the stove on," Mills said. "A lot of dementia is treatable and a result of being malnourished or dehydrated. By knowing there is a problem, a case worker can help provide services needed."

To make a referral call, Hadfield or Mary Lou Spartz at 463-6177.

Southeast Senior Services also offers a senior and caregiver resource center, which provides support groups for family caregivers and caregiver forums. For more information, call 463-6177 or go online to www.seniorcareinfo.org.


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