Elderly Neighbors: Extra Mile vs. Too Far

Where do you draw the line?

One of the rarely discussed “benefits” of helping declining seniors is the feeling you get from helping when help is needed.  You knew that the declining Senior needed your assistance and it made you feel good to help! Nothing feels better than actually helping someone and knowing that what you did made a difference! After all, it is good practice to respect the elderly and to love our neighbors, right?

Recent estimates indicate that there are over 40 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S.  I believe that number is low.  It would be impossible to track the many small incidents of assistance that occur every day and are just chalked up to acts of kindness.

A couple of common examples:

  • Bob is retired and sees his old friend and next-door neighbor (Fred) struggling to mow his lawn.  Bob chips in and finishes the lawn for Fred; then does it again the next week; now every other week; and is also picking up groceries for Fred and his wife.
  • Suzie sees that a friend and neighbor has started to decline in health so she begins to stop by a few mornings a week to “visit and have a cup of coffee”.  After coffee she starts helping with breakfast. Next is helping lay out meds for the day (danger-zone!). Her next step is helping prepare lunch in advance. Once lunch is prepared, she starts helping her friend plan out and get ready for her day. Suzie’s “coffee visit” has turned into spending several hours a day being there to help.

You may say the above examples are just acts of kindness toward elderly neighbors, or “doing what’s right”. For the most part, I would agree.  Many of these acts happen daily and I would guess that none of the above fall within the estimated unpaid caregiver number mentioned above.

In both of the above examples, both Suzy and Bob (neighbor and friends of those needing assistance) are acting to help a declining senior in need.  But when and how much should you help?  When you start, how do you stop?  What happens when the senior you are helping needs more help?  Where do you draw the line?  The answers may depend on several factors.

For Retired Seniors

If you are retired from your job, profession or career, you “supposedly have time” to help a friend or family member who is declining and needs your help.  This sounds nice, but may be a fallacy.  I have several friends who are retired. Many tell me that they are busier than ever. Many say they are so busy that they simply don’t have time to work!

If this describes you, then it’s important to prioritize your daily tasks and not agree to take on responsibilities that it’s hard to fulfill.  It’s easy to “bite off more than you can chew!”  

When our kids were little they loved a book that we frequently read to them entitled “When You Give a Mouse a Cookie”.  This goes something like, ” When you give a mouse a cookie, then he wants a glass of milk.  Then of course, when he gets the milk, it’s something else and so on and so on.

It’s easy to start helping your elderly neighbors, then not knowing where to draw the line.  If you are a retired senior yourself and see the need, it’s easy to start. But where do you stop?  I have seen many well meaning friends or neighbors start providing assistance and get sucked into the vortex of care quickly. Many don’t know how to get out!  Sometimes the care they provide to their elderly neighbor is detrimental to their own health and wellness.  Certainly it affects their own enjoyment of life.

This is easy to do when the adult kids of the elderly neighbor live out of state.  The declining senior may be your friend and you do care for them – but where do you draw the line?

Calling Their Kids

You may go so far as calling their kids to let them know that their parents need additional help.  Sometimes the adult kids were just unaware and may really appreciate your call.  They may jump in, call their siblings, schedule a family meeting, and take action to make a difference.  They may schedule non-medical home caregivers or check into facility care for their parents.

When Their Kids Won’t Help

What happens when you make the call and their kids won’t help.  Maybe their adult kids live across the country, have a job, a family, are busy and just can’t help.  They don’t have the time nor money to take time off from their job and fly back home to help.

The kids may love their parents and would like to help, but can’t.  They really appreciate all you are doing for their Mom or Dad, but appreciation is about the only help they can give to your dear elderly neighbors.

If you find yourself in this dilemma, what do you do?   You are aware of the need, but don’t know how much you should do and where to stop.  Here are a few things to consider.

  1. Authorization. It’s important to know that there are many things that you are not authorized to do, such as making legal, financial or medical decisions on behalf of a friend or neighbor.  Even if they ask for your assistance in these areas, it may be better to decline.  It’s easy to  get into deep water quickly here.  These areas are better handled by the adult kids, even if they live out of state.
  2. Prescription Medications. This can be a danger zone!  It’s better to leave the medication dispensing to their family or to medical professionals. Many pharmacies will even deliver prescriptions to their door.
  3. Adult Protective Service.  This is the last straw.  If things get really bad for your friend or neighbor and the family can’t or won’t help, sometimes it’s time to call in the state.  Most states have something like an Adult Protective Service.  This is a state funded agency that is charged with stepping in to help abused or neglected adults in need.

We want to be friends!

Ok. That might come off a little fast, considering we barely know each other. However, we fully understand the stress and turmoil that you are facing as Family Caregiver. It’s our desire to be the helpful and wise elderly neighbors. You know, the ones with the pie in the window who are always welcoming and full of wisdom?

In our time as caregivers, we have amassed a wealth of knowledge that we desire to pass on. Likewise, we have met many professional caregivers, as well as other family members who were thrust as Family Caregiver. All caregivers have shared the same advice – Join a community!

We have since created Caregiver Connection. Caregiver Connection is a newsletter that we write personally and send to fellow Caregivers. It is full of tips, tricks, and even professional advice. If you would like to sign up, click the button below.

Please Invite Someone to Our Newsletter

Being an Adult Kid with a declining parent can be a scary, frustrating and lonely place. You feel like you are solely responsible for solving Mom’s problems while managing yours. Some occasional input and a community to plug into would help! This is a way that all of us can be working together as caregivers!

Many others that you may personally know are having to figure it all out by themselves. Most of them have no community. Please take a minute and do them a favor. Copy this link – help.mom/cc – and send it to them in an email or private message. They can click on it and subscribe to our newsletter for free.

Then they can enjoy weekly tips and encouragement. They no longer have to feel so alone in their family caregiver journey. They will appreciate the favor! Thank you for thinking of them!

Thank You for being a Caregiver for Your Loved One – you are making a huge difference in their life!