My neighbor “Ann” is 85, but she has the energy of a 25-year old. She leaves her house every day before I do and often comes home at 11:30 p.m. when I am in bed. She takes trips to Vegas that sound as though they were the basis for the popular “what happens in Vegas” commercial series. She has the sense of humor of an experienced stand-up comic and I can only imagine some of the stories she tells of her escapades. I am continually amazed at her spunk and vitality.
With all of Ann’s vigor, she is unable to keep up her yard, so my husband and I help her out from time to time. Last weekend, we had about nine inches of snow and Ann’s green Buick, which usually comes and goes regularly throughout the day, was snowed-in in the driveway. It was an odd sight that made me feel sort of sad. As I shoveled, I began thinking: What if she needed something from the store? How would she get out if there were an emergency? What if she fell in the snow trying to leave?
Ann has a family member who lives in the area, but they have a very busy schedule and aren’t always able to be there when she needs a hand. I became curious about the local options available to help older adults who possess Ann’s youthful spirit, but have some challenges around the house. I shared Ann’s situation with Terry Fries-Maloy, our Care Coordinator. She said:
Ann’s situation is not unique. People, as a whole, are living longer these days and with what we now know about health management, they are staying healthier and more active as they age. Ann is certainly a shining example of a phrase I heard recently: “80 is the new 60.”
Several questions came to me as I heard your description of Ann’s situation. First, have you spoken directly with Ann about your concerns? As active as she is, she may be surprised to find that anyone would be worried about her. Though conversations such as these are sometimes difficult, a neighborly discussion with her about your observations could prompt her to pay a bit more attention to her future safety and security matters.
Next, do you know her family well enough to express your concerns to them? They may share similar worries about Ann or, as you mentioned, may be too busy to notice that Ann is having difficulty with some home maintenance chores. Her family may welcome your observations and, as a result, may make a special effort to assist her or hire someone to assist her with these chores. Your conversation with her family may be the impetus they need to finally discuss their own concerns with her.
Lastly, in which geographic region does Ann live? There are a number of cities and towns in our area with outstanding senior service agencies or Agencies on Aging. Such organizations may be able to link Ann, if she wants them, with free or low-cost supportive services such as gardening, snow plowing and emergency response pendants for the elders in their service area.
Note above that I emphasized the words “if she wants them.” Unless it is a critical situation, few, if any, senior organizations will provide services to an elder who refuses those services even if others perceive them as a necessity. That is why starting a dialogue with Ann or, if that is not feasible, with her family about your observations is strongly encouraged.
Though Ann or her family may welcome the conversation, you also need to be prepared for the possibility of a negative reaction. If Ann is a private person, if she or her family does not care to hear the opinions of others, or if she or her family is in denial or trying to cover up her increasing frailty or shifting priorities, your efforts may be rejected. If that is the consequence, you need to know that your efforts were with good intention and that you did the ‘right’ thing by expressing your concerns.
– Posted by Jill Fowler