As our population grows older, this is becoming a more common scene: neighbors trying to find help for another neighbor whose driving now poses a danger to others, whose home is in disrepair, or whose utilities are often cut off for nonpayment. If you’re in this situation, you may feel both worried for your neighbor and frustrated by your efforts to find assistance. Here are some things to know when your elderly neighbor needs help.
More seniors living alone and more “elder orphans”
Aging in place and living alone can work fine for seniors, as long as they’re socially connected and can live safely on their own. In 2014, about 12.5 million US seniors lived alone, including nearly half of American women age 75 and older.
Problems arise, though, when solo-living seniors have no one to check in on them and no family to step in and help out. These so-called “elder orphans” can suffer from social isolation, and health problems can cascade into poor self-care, a neglected home, and problems running errands and caring for pets.
Signs that your older neighbor may need help
You may notice behavior changes like increased irritability or confusion that can indicate health problems. Other signs your neighbor may be in need are:
- Erratic driving or new damage to their vehicle
- A suddenly unkempt appearance
- Pets left out all night to bark or no longer taken for walks
- No lights on at night, which can be a sign that the power has been cut off
- Failing to put trash out for weekly pickup
- Mail overflowing the mailbox
If you and others in the neighborhood are concerned, it’s time to ask for help.
Who should you talk to when a neighbor needs help?
Talk to your neighbor first, in a tactful way. You might start by asking how they’re doing and then mention something you’ve noticed, such as an unmowed lawn or mail spilling out of the box. Offer to help, if you’re willing and able to do so. Some people will gladly accept, others may not.
Find out if your neighbor has family members you can contact to see if they can arrange for help. If your neighbor belongs to a religious congregation, ask the office if they have resources to help their senior members at home.
If your neighbor is truly isolated, or if they need more services than neighbors and family can provide, get in touch with your local Area Agency on Aging and describe the situation to them. These agencies are the experts on what’s available in terms of
- state, local, and federal benefits
- assistance programs to help seniors live safely at home
- health and wellness programs
- in-home care coordination
- adult day care
- senior housing options
and many other services.
These agencies are a valuable resource for seniors and the people who care about them. You can search the national site to find your local Area Agency on Aging here.
Finally, remember that if you’re ever worried about your neighbor’s immediate safety—you haven’t seen them in an unusually long time or they failed to return from an errand—you can request a wellbeing check from your local police department or sheriff’s office.