Recently “Sarah”, a woman who lived alone in my neighborhood, fell and was unable to get up. Luckily a friend hadn’t seen her outside and began to worry about her. The friend rang the doorbell but heard no response. Then she walked around the house and still didn’t hear anything.
Soon, the friend was joined by another friend and both began to shout outside the house. Finally they heard a response from Sarah and they realized she was in the home and was unable to come to the door.
In this independent senior neighborhood, there is an on-site manager weekdays who has access to a duplicate key to our homes and can get inside to help in an emergency. Otherwise, one would have to call the police or fire department to come do a welfare check.
Upon getting this help, they found that Sarah had fallen a whole day earlier and had spent over 24 hours on the floor. She was taken to an emergency room and then to a rehabilitation facility to recover.
At this point, I am going to backtrack to tell you a bit about Sarah and our neighborhood. This is an independent community of seniors who are over age 55. We do not have a community dining area or emergency cords to pull. While each unit has a security system, many don’t remember that it can be used to call for help. Some people have a privately provided emergency necklace button to call for help, but Sarah either didn’t have one or wasn’t able to use it.
In addition, while Sarah had been extremely active 5 years ago, she slowed down considerably after she had a small stroke. I didn’t know Sarah when she was so active in our community but I had visited with her as I walked in the neighborhood and saw her a few times at our clubhouse. I thought Sarah had agoraphobia because she rarely went out any more, but recently learned that she was less social because of her stroke, not agoraphobia.
Sarah’s next door neighbor had become increasingly concerned about Sarah during the last year because Sarah was more and more dependent upon her. The neighbor counted out Sarah’s pills weekly and provided transportation and companionship on a regular basis. She checked on Sarah daily to make sure everything was OK.
Sarah’s neighbor had spoken with Sarah’s children and suggested they consider an assisted living facility for her. The neighbor told them that Sarah’s needs were increasing and she was afraid for Sarah’s safety. But Sarah’s children didn’t follow up because Sarah liked things the way they were. Sarah and her children felt she could continue on her own while counting on unpaid help from the neighbor.
But, at the time Sarah fell, her neighbor was on vacation for over a week. Other neighbors would check on her periodically, but only her next door neighbor had a key and made regular visits to checkup on Sarah.
Sarah was fortunate that another friend missed seeing her outside and went to her home to check on her. She was also fortunate that she wasn’t seriously injured in her fall, but she was dehydrated from being alone on the floor for over a day.
Once Sarah was hospitalized, her children realized that they had to make arrangements for supervised care for their mother. After Sarah is released from the rehabilitation facility, she will be placed in an assisted living facility nearby. Her friends will still be able to visit her, but she will have her meals provided and she will be supervised for her medications and to help prevent falls and isolation.
I am writing about this today because like Sarah’s children, I also counted on my parents’ neighbors to watch over them when I lived thousands of miles away. I couldn’t convince my parents to move to an assisted living facility and it was only with the help of neighbors that they survived on their own.
Luckily I was on an extended visit with mom and dad when I realized that they needed more care than their neighbors could provide. Still, I was unable to convince them to move to assisted living and in fact the neighbor convinced mom that she could continue to help them instead.
It was only after a crisis sent mom to the emergency room that we learned that we could not put off the move to assisted living any more. Both mom and dad were unable to live on their own. For years mom had cared for dad and the neighbors had helped mom. But as time went by, this situation was no longer adequate. Luckily mom and dad were moved to assisted living without a life threatening crisis.
Now I want to use this blog as an opportunity to remind the elderly and those who care for elderly parents or other relatives to be vigilant. What worked last year might not continue to work this year and next year. If you see deterioration in your parent’s condition over time, get an assessment before the inevitable crisis.
Talk to your parent’s neighbors and friends. Their neighbors may be helping more than ever before. They may welcome the opportunity to tell you that it is time to get more services for your elderly parents. Consider this post to be just a little nudge to get you thinking about the future.