Day after day, we pass our neighbors’ homes and notice their behaviors and habits. Sometimes, we pick up on their routines while gazing out our windows. What happens when you notice changes in a neighbor’s routine that seem like a red flag? You may be unsure about whether you should do something or wonder if it would be prying. These thoughts can become especially pressing if your neighbor is an older adult who lives alone.
Let’s explore the warning signs based on your personal observations. Sometimes, the changes you notice may be a result of poor mobility or cognitive, financial, and social decline.
Have you seen any of the following?
- A decline in home or lawn maintenance
Less mobility means an older adult may be unable to maintain their property. You can offer your assistance to help with tasks like mowing their lawn. Also, many high school, college, civic organizations, and corporations welcome year-round volunteer opportunities. It may take a little work on your part to identify these volunteers, but your few minutes of effort can result in invaluable assistance for your neighbor.
- Doors, windows, and curtains remain closed
If you neighbor is having trouble with chores, he or she may be hiding the condition of their living space. Sometimes, a simple solution is hiring a personal case assistant. On the other hand, if you neighbor is experiencing social isolation, he or she may be disengaging by shielding their safe zone. Although you cannot determine your neighbor’s mental status with direct observation, please note that social engagement programs do exist in some areas (such as ElderServe’s TeleCare and Friendly Visitor programs). Contact a local program, express your concern, and let the program representative reach out to your neighbor.
- Vehicle rarely moves, very few visitors
Declined mobility or social isolation (as well as a lack of financial resources) may influence how often your neighbor ventures away from home, or how often he or she welcomes people inside their home. If your neighbor isn’t leaving home (or routinely visited) for long periods of time, chances are he or she is not interacting in social spaces with friends, family, or church members, for example.
- Change in physical appearance
Although illness is a major culprit in altered physical conditions such as weight loss or gain, overall esteem and mental wellbeing can contribute to changes in physical appearance as well. Talk to your neighbor or solicit the assistance of an outside party. Illness/disease may also play a role #1 and #3 above.
- Leaves mail and newspaper unattended
If your neighbor is not stepping outside of their home to collect mail or newspaper for long periods of time, this is a strong indication of social isolation or forgetfulness (cognitive decline).
Steps you can take:
Talk to your neighbor
Sometimes, the best approach is direct contact. Simply ask your neighbor whether he or she needs assistance with tasks. Just include your concerns in a normal conversation. For example, shift the conversation to an observation by saying something like “Mr. Roberts, I noticed your flowerbed is overgrown. Do you need any help with it?” By framing your concerns as a simple observation, they are more likely to accept your help.
Are you uncomfortable with interfering in your neighbor’s personal affairs?
If so, consider the following:
Contact one of their family members. Many times, families are simply unaware that their loved one is having these issues. By communicating with their children or siblings, you can ensure that they are mindful of the issues and can respond accordingly.
Contact an outside party such as a social services agency. ElderServe, for example, provides a range of senior services. Explain to the agency representative what you’ve noticed and ask that he or she contact your neighbor. Provide your neighbor’s address so the agency can send literature about their services. In this case, your neighbor can retain a level of anonymity and contact the provider directly for more information.