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What happens when Mom's neighbors head north for the summer? - Aging Wisely

Does your loved one live in Florida and get a lot of support from neighbors and friends? Do the neighbors check in and provide a sense of safety and security? What happens when the snowbirds leave to head north for the summer? Or, when a very involved friend or neighbor takes an extended vacation or suffers from his/her own health issues?

While I am continually impressed by the community spirit that exists and the way neighbors, church communities, friends and volunteers reach out to support elders in the community, families need to think about the “what ifs”. Each year, the Dept. of Children and Families receives increased calls in late spring/early summer which can be partly attributed to the phenomena of snowbird support systems heading north. Perhaps we all need to think more comprehensively about what a person might need and how we can accomplish that together. A neighbor can offer support and for example, help pick up some groceries or check in, bring someone their mail, cook meals when ill, etc. But when providing more support, it might be time for a conversation about what other options and services are available.

Some ideas to consider:

1. If you are a neighbor or friend helping an elderly person, help them make some calls for information. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging and related elder services, or a geriatric care manager. Find out what might be available for this person, now and in the future. There may be services and programs that can help where you cannot, or this can free you up to help in other ways. (You may have to think of different ways to approach this as the person may not want to reach out for help. You may need to be firm, elicit help from others the person trusts, and explain that this is important as a way to help make sure the person can stay safe and independent.)

2. As a family member, realize realistic limitations of neighbors. Many families at a distance expect neighbors to be their eyes and ears, and I’ve heard a # of stories where things fell through the cracks this way (why? perhaps the neighbor didn’t know what to look for, the neighbors had their own health issues, or felt strange “tattling” on their friend).

3. Consider introducing some services, even if friends and family can handle everything currently. This gives everyone a comfort level if something changes or an emergency occurs. One way to do this may be for “respite” when for example, you are going on vacation or having surgery. Try using a home health agency or transportation service for specific needs or a limited time, for example (when everyone is pleasantly surprised how well this works out, it can always be extended).

4. Don’t forget about the big emergencies. What would happen if your elderly grandmother fell at home (the neighbors come by daily, but how long would she lie there without help and who would pick her up)? What happens in the event of a visit to the ER (who will be there with her, what if it is the middle of the night, who will keep you informed, who knows her history)? What’s the plan when hurricane season hits (the plan from 5 years ago may not be relevant)? Do not await that dreaded phone call to realize you should have contingency plans in place.

5. If you are that helpful neighbor, give yourself a pat on the back for all you do. Informal caregivers (non-paid–i.e. family, friends, neighbors) provide the bulk of care to the elderly in the U.S. and the value is billions of dollars, plus a huge difference to the person/persons you help. If neighbors and friends help your loved one, say thanks and check in with them on ways you can support them.

As summer approaches, don’t put on your blinders on these issues. Seek out information and help. Get an evaluation or seek a consultation with a professional care manager. Do your loved one, neighbor or friend the biggest favor you can–be prepared and plan ahead.

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