Dr. Marion Q&A: “I’m worried that an elderly neighbor is being neglected. How do I help?”

Dr. Marion Somers gives expert advice on knowing how and when to step in.

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Image of Dr. Marion SomersDr. Marion Somers

Reader question: I have an elderly neighbor and I’m worried that her family is ignoring her immediate and long term needs. What can I do to help? 

Dr. Marion says: When we become aware that a friend, family member, or neighbor needs some extra assistance, we are sometimes hesitant to step in. How do we listen to our conscience without intruding on another’s privacy?

On the other hand, what if something negative happens to that individual, and we have not alerted anyone? I always start with the individual in question. The senior you mention may not want her family to get involved, or may not want her privacy intruded upon. My experience is that if you approach the subject gently, conveying your concern, the elder may open up to share her situation from her perspective. She might have solutions, but no way to carry them out. The elder may want someone specific to be called in to help, but she may not know how to start the conversation to ask for help. Whatever the situation, some attention needs to be brought to the forefront.

Once you have investigated the problem with the elder in question, follow her suggestions and her lead, and help her to help herself. I always try to preserve the independence and dignity of our seniors.

If the elder is not competent to understand that she needs help, then the family or the person in charge needs to be notified. If all else fails, the department of aging in your community or, in extreme cases, the police may be of assistance. If they can’t help directly, they can point you to the proper services in your community.

Keep a journal of the names and contact information of any people you speak to, so you’ll have a record to refer back to. As we age, and as our families spread out, we all need to show concern for each other and lend a helping hand when needed. Thank you for being a concerned citizen and neighbor.

Marion Somers, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized geriatric care manager, lecturer and author of Elder Care Issues Made Easier. Her goal is to help caregivers everywhere by providing valuable insights and information. Click here to visit her web site