Q: I am worried about my elderly neighbor. She hardly comes outside anymore, and I am afraid she is not able to take care of herself. What can I do to help?
A: It is wonderful to hear neighbors caring about each other and noticing when there are changes that may indicate a problem. I encourage people to check on each other and create a community in your neighborhood that looks out for one another.
With that in mind, I also know many people are concerned about overstepping and possibly upsetting or offending their neighbors. It is important to show concern without making assumptions or telling other people what they need to do.
I recommend starting by going to your neighbor and talking to her directly. Share that you noticed her not coming outside as much and ask her how she has been. That may start enough of a conversation to better understand what your neighbor’s needs are. It could be that she has been ill, it could be loneliness, or could just be the weather keeping her inside.
Sometimes simply asking the questions is all that is needed. If your neighbor is interested in having help, you can help connect them with community resources. If you do not know where to turn, contact your local Area Agency on Aging for resources. In Ventura County call 805-477-7300 and in Los Angeles County call 213-738-400. However, if you feel your neighbor is pushing you away or hiding something, or you cannot reach them at all, then you may need to take further steps.
If you have any contacts for family or friends, you can reach out to them and share your observations. A neighbor recently contacted us at Senior Concerns with worries about their neighbors. With our encouragement they reached out to the neighbor’s daughter who lives out of state. The daughter was so appreciative of the call because over the phone she had not noticed any concerns. The call prompted her to come and visit. She found the house was in disarray and her parents were no longer bathing or eating properly.
The daughter was able to hire a cleaning person and some temporary care to check on her parents and assist them with hygiene. She signed her parents up for home delivered meals and scheduled doctors’ appointments to ensure their medical care was being monitored.
If you do not have any other contacts for your neighbor and you feel they may be self-neglecting, you can contact Adult Protective Services to check on them. Self-neglect is when a person is living in a way that puts their own health and safety at risk. It may be that due to physical or cognitive frailty they are unable to secure food, bathe, maintain a sanitary home, or secure medical care.
Adult Protective Services is an agency run by each County to help elder adults (60 years and older) and dependent adults (18-59 who are disabled), when these adults are unable to meet their own needs, or are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Once a report is made the agency will send a social worker to the home to talk to the older adult directly and understand their needs. They can provide short term assistance to help ensure their safety and link them to needed resources.
We never want to assume someone cannot make their own decisions, but we also do not want to ignore it when we see signs that someone may need help. I encourage you to take the first steps to reach out and show your concern for your neighbor. We can create the type of community we want to live in, where neighbors look out for each other and feel supported and connected.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.