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The NSPA Blog

A Day In The Neighborhood. What Would Mr. Rogers Say?

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Posted on February 3rd, 2021 by Bettina Carlson, under Senior Orphans, Seniors, Take Charge

Just recently, after a busy and rewarding day at work, after I took care of my family, I sat down to engage in a frivolous guilty pleasure – checking out the world on Facebook. And up pops a notification from my neighborhood’s Facebook page. Since our members on this page share good, interesting, and relevant information, I clicked on it. And today, I will write about a sad reality that became revealed as this post unfolded. (Private details will be anonymized). 

The post read: “Hi Neighbors, I received an unusual phone message. Someone who is a relative of John Doe (123 Anywhere Road) has not heard from John in a long time. Somehow they got my phone number as I used to live on the same road and thought I might know something. Does anyone know John? Sounds like this relative should contact the police for a wellness check ……or is this a scam……the whole thing is weird.”

This perked my attention. As a human, a neighbor, and an Advocate. My mind started assessing the possibilities of this message: ‘Yes, it is somewhat weird; there are so many crafty scam artists out there. But what would be the purpose of this kind of scam? It seems more likely to be a genuine inquiry. What if something happened to that person? He seems to live alone, with no family nearby. Maybe no friends either; after all, the family member called a stranger. I suggested to the poster to call the police for a wellness check. 

My mind kept spinning. If indeed something happened, what could have happened? On the FB post, someone said she is a neighbor, and the person exists; he is an older gentleman living by himself. Now, my mind rushed through numerous scenarios of what could have happened – he is a snowbird, he left the state for the sun in Florida without telling the family member; but he probably has a cell phone. He had fallen and couldn’t get up and get to a phone, and no one heard his screams. He had fallen and hit his head and was knocked out. And then that one scenario, that no one likes to think about, he passed away. All these scenarios I had come up with left me unsettled and restless as I realized how vulnerable that neighbor was. 

I had no choice; I got in my car and drove to the address. I much rather would make a fool of myself by being a “nosy” neighbor than sitting by, now that I had run through all these unsettling but possible scenarios. Whether anyone of those would be a reality or not, I didn’t know at this point. How could I take a chance? As I arrived at the address, the police were already there. I drove on – I would check on our neighborhood FB page for an update.

The update was posted the next morning: “The police and coroner were there for a long time looking around with flashlights last night. We eventually saw the body being put into an ambulance. I don’t know much else. I can’t remember the last time seeing this neighbor or any action in the home.” 

I sat in sorrowed silence.

A neighbor may have passed away. By himself. After being alone for an extended time. No one aware of what is going on in his house. In a nice suburban community.

I have no other information yet than what I wrote above. But I have questions and I feel the need to raise awareness of this vulnerability in our communities. 

What went wrong? 

How can something like this be avoided?

What vulnerability?

Plenty of people, of all ages, live alone by themselves successfully. But I have learned over the year and firsthand as an advocate that being older, with no family or friends nearby, creates certain isolation that makes one more vulnerable. Even more so when retired from work and volunteering. And during COVID, many of us are more indoor bound than before. It is easier to get “lost” in this isolation. 

This reminds me of one of my clients, whose brother is older, reasonably healthy, lives by himself in his own moderately sized single family home, and doesn’t drive. Since my client has dementia, her brother is essentially on his own. One day, I called him and couldn’t reach him all day. He also hadn’t checked in with his sister at the usual daily hour. Now, I was getting nervous. In the late evening, I had a choice to make: call the police for a wellness check  (the thought of which made me nervous) or drive the 30 minutes to his house myself. I made one last attempt to reach him. (For the 15th time).  And he picked up. He was well, he just hadn’t felt like talking to anyone. We said good night and hung up. I had concerns that had to wait. 

A few days later, when I picked him up to take him to his sister’s house for a visit, I addressed my concerns with him. In case of an emergency, let’s say you fell, 

  • How would you contact anyone if you couldn’t get up? 
  • Or, if you were unconscious, how long would it take before someone notices? 
  • Do you have an emergency contact in your neighborhood? Does someone have your key?

It turns out, he has no emergency contact, and he has fallen before, and he had fallen that day, that I couldn’t reach him for so long. He “tore a hole in his pants, cleaned up his wound on his knee, put a bandaid on it, and got up and on with his day. Like he always does.”

I heard his strong desire for independence and a good dose of stubbornness. Wanting to be respectful of his sense of independence and wanting a safety net for him in place, I explained my concern for his potential vulnerability. We agreed that it is to his benefit that if he doesn’t check in with his sister with their regular phone calls, the caregiver will let me know, and I will try to reach him for a check-in. And if I cannot reach him long past his regular bedtime, I will either drive to his house or call the police for a wellness check. He wouldn’t have to talk to me on the phone beyond “Hi, I’m fine”. 

What would Mr. Rogers say?

Actually, Mr. Rogers said : “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors–in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.” So look for the helpers and be the helper.

Here are a few recommendations for those living alone:

Have a dedicated neighbor, family member or friend, who lives nearby with who you check in daily. A good time is in the morning. A quick phone call to say “hi” suffices. 

Give a trusted neighbor a key to your house, just in case. 

Wear a medical alert bracelet to call for help should you fall and be unable to get to a phone.

My recommendation for neighbors of older adults living alone:

Introduce yourself to your elderly neighbor and exchange phone numbers.

Check-in with them on occasion to see how they are doing, to see if you can identify concerns. (And keep them informed on possible situations that might affect them, like scams or panhandlers.)

If you, our dear readers, have suggestions you want to share, please do so. We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a message on our website, on our social media pages, or contact us directly. 

Be blessed and be well.

One more item: Please check our website and social media pages for some exciting news coming soon.

Teri’s Corner

Why do people lie to their doctor. Daily Herald. https://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20210131/why-people-often-lie-to-their-doctor

This small key can be a key to recovery. Daily Herald, https://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20210117/this-one-small-step-can-be-key-to-recovery

Keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet. Gilette News Record. https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com/article_2dd120b5-32a0-55ae-a311-5b74f056433b.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share

Take time to express gratitude: It’s good for you. Daily Herald. https://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20210103/take-time-to-express-gratitude-its-good-for-you

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