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Check in on them: Don’t forget about seniors during pandemic, San Antonio psychiatrist says

Fear could leave some seniors vulnerable to abuse, exploitation

San Antonio – Mental health experts are asking the community to be more vigilant about looking after seniors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jason Schillerstrom, a geriatric psychiatrist at UT Health San Antonio who works with Adult Protective Services (APS), said feelings of isolation and loneliness have been magnified by the stay-home restrictions among seniors he visits.

“They might have hearing impairments and rely on lip reading, for example, to help them communicate. And so I think communication is a little bit more difficult with them, and (they have) a little more fear to go out into the community,” he said.

Schillerstrom said these feelings could leave seniors vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

“Family members, I would just encourage them to call a little more often than they do,” he said. “If neighbors see anything suspicious, I would ask that they notify authorities or find some other way to check in on them as elders.”

APS reports that the number of all contacts to the Texas Abuse Hotline for April decreased when compared to the last two years. The contacts are for both children and adults. APS says abuse and neglect are still happening, but they're not being reported.

April 2020: 39,438

April 2019: 57,102

April 2018: 52,109

Patricia Lamar, who is in her late 60s, said she’s used to being active with her community church, and that’s continued through video meetings. But she likes to call or text, and she likes it when others do the same.

“I think it goes a long way with their mental state to have someone say ‘Hi’ and put that smile on someone's face,” she said.

District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval has about 15 to 20 volunteers who are calling more than 8,200 residents who are over 65 years old to check-in on them.

“If you know someone, reach out to them, just have a conversation with them. And it's OK if you don't have big news to give them. It's OK if you just shoot the breeze and talk about the little things,” Sandoval said.

District 4 officials say they are also staying in touch with seniors who’ve made contact with them. Other districts say they are in touch with senior centers to check in on any needs.

“The message is to not forget about them,” Schillerstrom said.

APS reports the number of all contacts to the Texas Abuse Hotline for April decreased when compared to the last two years. The contacts are for both children and adults.


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