Beyond The Holidays: Caring for Our Older Neighbors

woman assists older manThe winter holiday season is often the time we use to reconnect with family and friends. It’s also when we’re more likely to check up on our older neighbors and other seniors who are important to us, to make sure they are doing well.

But times of need are neither predictable nor convenient, especially when it comes to one’s well-being. We shouldn’t wait for the holidays to pay attention to changing situations.

A simple checklist can help us become consistent guardians for the seniors we know:

• Has their demeanor, personality, or mental acuity changed?
• Are they less social, harder to reach, or withdrawing from contact?
• Do they have new and noticeable physical ailments or limitations?
• Has their physical appearance or attention to grooming changed?
• If you are invited into their home, is it in the condition you are used to seeing it?
• Is there a more recent inattention to cleanliness, clutter or safety in the home?

So often we are told to respect others’ privacy and to “stay out of their business.” But prompt timing is crucial in many situations. Tactful observations and questions, and a respectful approach to share your concern directly with a loved-one or friend, can be important in the sometimes uncomfortable process of unwrapping an acute need.

Susan McDaniels, a social worker who works primarily with seniors and their family members, told me that intervening before there is a crisis “gives family members and their loved ones more control over life-changing situations and greater options for long-term planning.”

“Approaching loved ones in a caring, respectful manner, and offering them choices that will help them with decision-making, does much to alleviate worry and reduce anxiety for the whole family,” she said.

If you don’t feel you have a strong enough relationship to approach someone directly, consider reaching out to your local Department on Aging. A local social worker, psychologist or geriatric case manager can also provide a second opinion or support. If you live in the city, your local ward office can help you find agencies that serve seniors in your neighborhood.

You might look to recruit one of these resources as a partner in discussing your concerns directly. Doing so could lessen the chances of your loved one feeling embarrassment or defensiveness as you devise options to help them deal with a new challenge.

One thing is true for most of us: Change is easier to manage when it isn’t an emergency. When we feel informed, with time to react, we can more easily manage any situation. We might be served to remember this when helping a senior in need.

About Jeff Robison

Jeff is a DePaul neighborhood resident focused on seniors' interests and issues. With wife Ausra, he is co-founder of LincolnPark FamilyCare, providing local non-medical, in-home care to seniors. Jeff can often be found enjoying the company of others on Chicago's North Side, working to spark social, educational, and needs-based community involvement. An avid hunter-and-pecker, he admits to having no writing skills whatsoever.

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