Elder Care

27 Jan

Dear LetterBalm: My husband and I are retired and have lived in our neighborhood for almost 40 years. Our kids are grown and married. We’re having some issues with our elderly neighbor next door. He’s 92 and has lived alone since last year, when his wife became too ill for him to care for her. He’s her second husband, so her children put her into a nursing home some distance from our town. Left to himself, he’s constantly around us, knocking on our door, looking for us in our garden, tapping at the windows, asking where we’re going. We can’t sit outside for a minute. He has two children of his own who don’t visit. We think he needs help, but how much of this is the responsibility of his neighbors? What do we say to his children?

–Hiding in Our House

How callous that your neighbor’s stepchildren would separate a 92-year-old man from his wife and leave him on his own. He’s not close to his own children for reasons you cannot know, but of course your neighbor needs help, and it looks like it’s up to you to try to put things right. He’s in advanced old age, he’s probably lonely and missing his wife, and he may be in the throes of physical pain, confusion or both. Who knows what his living conditions are like or even if he’s eating regularly. Ms. L.B. advises that if you don’t have his children’s phone numbers, you and your husband invite yourself over and chat with your neighbor about his children and family. Gently elicit the contact information you need, asking permission to search his home for it if necessary. When you call his kids, keep cool and don’t accuse. Your goal is to alert his family to get him safely into some kind of care, either in his home or a facility:

John and Mary, we’re Linda and Bill Smith, your father’s next-door neighbors. We’re calling because we’re very concerned about him. We’re not sure if you know, but last summer, his wife Midge became too ill for your dad to care for her properly. Her children decided to relocate her and put her in a nursing home some distance from here. Since then, George has been wandering the neighborhood, knocking on windows, knocking on our door, looking for attention. Clearly, he’s in some mental and physical distress. We stopped in yesterday, and the condition of his house is alarming. We don’t know if George is eating regularly, and the place is dirty and unheated. This is an emergency situation – can we count on your immediate attention? If you feel you can’t take care of this right away, we’ll be calling Adult Protective Services. We’ll provide them with your contact information, and we’ll keep on this.

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