Ask Nancy: What to do when your elderly neighbor needs help

07/26/2014 12:00 AM

07/23/2014 1:10 PM

Q. My next-door neighbors for the past 30 years are two elderly women who are now in their eighties. One has COPD and is frequently hospitalized; the other has macular degeneration. They don’t seem to have family members to help them, nor is there any contact by a social worker as far as I know.

Though we’re not friends, I do help them from time to time by taking them grocery shopping, and each time I grow more concerned about their safety. They seem very forgetful, but deny that they need any help. I see that they need far more than a kindness once in a while from me.

If you could suggest some community resources, I would gladly pass them on to my neighbors, though I can’t be sure they’ll follow up. They depend on each other, but I see that melting away as their health declines with age.

Laura P., Miami, FL

A: It does indeed sound like they need extra support and you are a kind neighbor to try to help them. There are many excellent resources in south Florida for at-home seniors. The question, of course, is if they will take the first step. Here are five recommendations.

1. The Department of Elder Affairs is a great resource for this kind of guidance. Their hotline is staffed with knowledgeable counselors who can point you to several programs that may help your neighbors. This could include a meal delivery service, a companion care program or perhaps a home-based program that prevents hospitalization. Some programs have wait lists. However, your request will be prioritized according to need, and adding your name to the waiting list is a good way to gain access to some very helpful home and community resources.

When you call 1-800-96-ELDER (35337), you will be connected to the appropriate information hotline in Florida. If you live outside of Florida, you can go to the Area On Aging’s website for assistance.

2. After a hospitalization or an office medical visit, your neighbors’ physician can write a prescription for daily care from the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA). This is especially important if compliance with medicines and wound healing is an issue. Medicare would cover it for about a month (the reimbursement rate drops every day). This could be a small, but solid, first step that could persuade them to accept more help.

3. An in-home assessment concerning home safety would be very helpful if they can afford it. It’s conducted by a social worker or care manager who would then follow up with them on a weekly or monthly basis depending on their needs.

4. Companion care can make a big difference, even if it’s for just a few hours, to help them with personal care and preparing meals. If that is too big a step for them, perhaps they would welcome help from someone who could run errands and grocery shop a few times a week.

5. Finally, I am a big fan of The SwitchBoard of Miami and their program called “Seniors Never Alone.” Calls are made once a week to seniors who need someone to talk to. They last from two to 25 minutes and the caller — the same one each week — keeps good notes and takes action if they suspect things are amiss. It’s free and voluntary. To enroll, call 2-1-1.

Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at nancy@ senioritymatters.com.

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