Officials share mental health, safety tips for older adults

About 90 people attended 'Senior Safety Symposium' event in Englewood

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In his years working as a firefighter and fire chief, Englewood resident Jim Jordan witnessed some of the safety and mental health issues facing older adults.

“I’ve seen a lot of suicides, for example,” he said. 

Wanting to help others, he approached the Malley Recreation Center, a City of Englewood center intended for people aged 55 and older, located at 3380 S. Lincoln St. 

“He came to us and was really concerned for safety in the aging community — seniors, mainly,” said Allison Boyd, the recreation manager. 

Cheryl Adamson, who previously worked at the recreation center, worked closely with Jordan to plan the first “Senior Safety Symposium” event. 

“We did it last year, and it was successful, and it was popular, and we’re doing it this year,” said Jordan, who is the president of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Heritage Society, a sponsor of the event. 

This year’s event was larger, as about 90 people attended the symposium at Malley Recreation Center on Sept. 21, Boyd said, compared to last year’s 65 attendees. 

The event, targeted for people aged 55 and older, featured a free lunch as well as presentations by representatives from AllHealth Network, Englewood Police Department, HealthONE Swedish Medical Center and a taekwondo school. 

“This event helps those people that we serve,” Boyd said. “We want them to be safe. We want them to age in place. We want them to be healthy and get food.” 

Among those who gathered to hear the presentations, Rozanne DeShazer sat in the front row with her husband, Maurice. 

“I thought that there might be information that we need regarding our safety. And we have friends, of course, that are experiencing some difficulties that I’m thinking maybe we can help them out,” DeShazer said about why they attended.

DeShazer, who lives in the Deer Creek Canyon area, specifically wanted to learn about resources for helping people experiencing the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, as some of her friends are undergoing changes such as “going into a home,” she said. 

“I want to be supportive, for them,” she said. “I think we all need to be informed, no matter what age we are.” 

Marielle Onstott presenting about mental health at the "Senior Safety Symposium" at Malley Recreation Center on Sept. 21.
Marielle Onstott presenting about mental health at the "Senior Safety Symposium" at Malley Recreation Center on Sept. 21.

Mental health 

In Colorado, the suicide rate of adults older than 65 is higher than the national average, according to the Colorado Health Institute

About 14% of suicides in Colorado each year are among older adults, the institute reported, placing Colorado “among the top 10 states for suicide among this group in 2020, according to America’s Health Rankings.” 

“Talking about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide. As a matter of fact, all of the research shows that the opposite is true,” said Marielle Onstott, a presenter at the symposium.

Onstott works for the AllHealth Network’s Co-Responder Program, which is a team of mental health professionals who respond to mental health related 911 calls, she said. 

“Older adults may exhibit what’s called passive self-harm behavior — not eating, not taking their medications, not drinking any liquids. Unfortunately, those are not documented as suicides,” Onstott said. 

The suicide rate among older adults is higher for men, she said. Suicide risk factors include chronic pain, physical illness, declining function and ability, and social isolation. 

“Dementia and other forms of impaired cognitive ability have also been linked with suicidal behavior in older adults,” she said. 

A warning sign Onstott recommended looking out for is depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression, although it is not a normal part of aging. 

If someone is thinking about suicide, Onstott said some suicide prevention tactics include primary care interventions using care coordinators, telephone counseling and clinical treatments, as well as securing or eliminating lethal means such as firearms.

There are also mental health resources available at any time for residents. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours, can be reached by dialing 988. 

Colorado Crisis Services, a statewide behavioral health crisis response system, is available 24 hours. People can call (844) 493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.

Marielle Onstott presenting about mental health at the "Senior Safety Symposium" at Malley Recreation Center on Sept. 21.
Marielle Onstott presenting about mental health at the "Senior Safety Symposium" at Malley Recreation Center on Sept. 21.

The biggest deterrent to suicide, in Onstott’s opinion, is social connectedness. 

“Find something that you enjoy doing. Find others that enjoy doing that also, and go do that with them. Stay connected with social activities,” she said. 

Onstott also stressed the importance of exercise in helping with both physical and mental health. 

“Exercise is the number one stress reducer for any age. Exercise spurs generation of new brain cells,” she said. “Without exercise, older adults can expect to see a decrease in the size of their hippocampus, which is your memory and learning center, by about one or two percent every year.” 

Shelly Fritz-Pelle, the recreation supervisor, said the Malley Recreation Center offers a variety of activities — such as exercise, creative and educational programs — which meet these recommendations. 

In general, if a person notices a change in their abilities, cognition or mood, they should go to the doctor, Onstott said. 

“A lot of times — as grandparents, as parents, as moms, as dads — we’re so used to putting other people’s needs before our own,” Onstott said. “We cannot help them if we don’t take care of us.” 

“Advocate for yourself, and your family, and your friends,” she said. 

Christian Contos, a detective with the Englewood Police Department, speaking during the Sept. 21 “Senior Safety Symposium” in Englewood.
Christian Contos, a detective with the Englewood Police Department, speaking during the Sept. 21 “Senior Safety Symposium” in Englewood.

Fraud prevention 

 Older adults have always been, and will always be, a target of fraud, said Christian Contos, a detective with the Englewood Police Department who spoke at the symposium. 

Fraudulent callers often represent themselves as banks, medical providers, insurance representatives, family members or government agencies, he said. 

“I promise you, a government agency will never call you out of the blue,” Contos said. “If there’s some reason that a government agency needs to contact you, we’re gonna come to your door. But even then, make sure you check who we are.”

Contos recommended looking for identifiers such as an identification tag or official vehicle. It’s also important to do research before signing any contracts or putting a deposit down for anything, he said. 

Scammers may contact older adults through social media, such as Facebook, and try to get people to speak with them in a private chat room so they can delete the messages and avoid being tracked, he said. 

This method of contact is often used for the “romance scam.” Scammers will send an older adult a Facebook friend request and try to form a relationship, Contos said. 

“They’re gonna take you to a private chat room on the internet and then they’re gonna get bank account information from you,” he said. 

According to a Feb. 11 news release from FBI Denver, the division saw about 200 romance scam victims, with more than $32 million in reported losses, between October and the end of January. About 60% of the victims were older than 60.  

Scammers also often ask people to buy gift cards because it’s an easy way to get money and is “almost impossible for the law enforcements to track,” Contos said. 

Another common type of scam is the lottery scam, in which scammers will say a person has won the lottery but has to pay taxes to collect the money, he said. 

The “grandchild scam” typically involves someone contacting older adults and posing as their grandchild asking for money, he said. 

Because scams can come across in an email, a phone call or social media, it’s important to “do your homework first,” he said. 

Residents can report fraud by filing a police report online at bit.ly/Onlinepolicereport, or by calling the Englewood Police Department’s non-emergency line at (303) 761-7410. If the situation is an emergency, call 911. 

An estimated 90 people attended the Sept. 21 “Senior Safety Symposium” in Englewood.
An estimated 90 people attended the Sept. 21 “Senior Safety Symposium” in Englewood.

Advice for contacting 911 

If a person calls 911, the first question to expect is, “What’s the location of your emergency?” Contos said. He advised people to communicate the specific address, road intersection or any visible businesses or buildings around them.

Depending on the location of the caller and the situation, the call may be transferred to another agency, he said. 

“You don’t need to be paying for service to call us on a cell phone,” Contos said, explaining cell phones without service can still call 911. 

If people are in a situation where they don't feel safe talking, they can contact 911 via text, he said. He said to type 911 as the text recipient and write a message that includes the location and what is happening. 

When telling the dispatcher the situation, he said it’s important to be clear and concise so the dispatcher knows the problem right away.

“They’re gonna ask you a lot of questions, and that may seem kind of annoying to you, and I get that,” Contos said. “But we need that information because that will determine what type of resource we’re going to send to you.” 

It’s important callers not hang up on dispatchers, he said, so they can continue to collect information and update police officers on the situation. 

If the situation is happening indoors, it’s helpful if callers can tell dispatchers how police can enter, such as which door or window to come through. If there are dogs present, it’s best to put them in another room if possible, he said. 

“If you see something, say something,” Contos said. “We would rather respond to a false alarm than respond to clean up a scene.” 

He also reminded attendees to lock their property, such as their cars, to help prevent theft. 

The “Senior Safety Symposium” was held Sept. 21 at Malley Recreation Center in Englewood.
The “Senior Safety Symposium” was held Sept. 21 at Malley Recreation Center in Englewood.

Holistic health 

The purpose of the symposium was to encourage older adults to continue to do activities — such as volunteering, creating things, or even writing a book about their lives — and to not give up, Jordan said. 

“If you feel young and you gotta think young, it actually makes a difference,” he said. 

Fritz-Pelle said she hopes attendees gained knowledge about holistic health. 

“Because it’s not just physical, it’s not just mental. It’s the whole being,” she said, explaining it’s important to be social and continually learning new things to keep the brain active. 

To help serve the needs of the older adult population, Boyd said the recreation center offers a variety of services, art programs, trip and excursion programs, and more. 

“We as a team really want to look out for this community,” Boyd said. “They still have all these things they want to do, and it shouldn’t stop just because they stopped working.” 

Those interested in learning more about the Malley Recreation Center can visit bit.ly/MalleyCenter or call (303) 762-2660. 

Englewood, Senior citizen, Older adult, Malley Recreation Center, Englewood Police Department, AllHealth Network, Senior Safety Symposium

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