February Ask the Expert
My neighbor is an older gentleman, perhaps in his 80s or 90s. He is in great shape and does all his own yardwork, but sometimes, I see that he’s a little off balance or needs to stop and rest. I worry about him and his ability to keep up, but I don’t want to be rude and intrude. What do I do?
Over the years, I’ve often been asked how to help a neighbor or a friend, who you have no legal authority for, but genuine concern. The answer can go one of two ways, depending on how receptive the person is to your help. Many older adults fiercely hold on to their independence, and rightfully so, but sometimes to their own detriment.
In this situation, you can certainly introduce yourself, offer your contact information and perhaps a helping hand when you see him out working. If you know of local service providers that might be able to supplement the yard work responsibilities, perhaps offer to share those as well. Perhaps there are certain tasks he might allow someone else to assist with, like trimming the bushes, that would open the door for increased support. It would not be taking away all of his responsibilities but supplementing them. Another great idea would be one of the emergency alert pendants, so if he did fall, he had a way to call for help. These are a great idea for anyone living alone. You could certainly share this idea with him and even offer to have some information sent to him. This allows him to keep doing what he loves but provides a safety net of sorts. Physical therapy to help increase balance and prevent falls might also be helpful. This is something you can suggest he talk to his doctor about. You might just mention you know someone else who was having balance issues, and physical therapy was helpful in regaining some strength and stability.
You can offer help and resources, but at the end of the day, it is up to him to utilize those. If you continued to have concerns or notice he had a fall, it might be appropriate to share those observations with a family member that may be able to intervene.
These are all best-case scenarios. In the unfortunate event that you felt he was no longer safe and a threat to himself, you can always call social services and ask that a representative from adult protective services make a visit to the home to assess the situation.
When I am trying to help someone maintain independence, especially in their own home, where they prefer to be, I remind them that the best way to stay independent is to get a support system in place before the crisis occurs. Be proactive, utilize some of the technology and support services available to ensure you stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Small adaptations can be implemented that make a big difference in day-to-day quality of life and overall safety. Perhaps try offering some information on local resources with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and see where that gets you. At a minimum, he will know he has a neighbor concerned about his wellbeing.