Non custodial, non-family elderly woman who needs intervention. How can I help?

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I have a dear widowed family friend who has not adjusted well to losing her spouse. Her son and daughter-in-law live less than ten miles away and do not engage in her life, her social and emotional needs, nor her health care. What recourse do I have to try and get this dear saint some help? She is depressed, lives in a home she can not care for, has laundry facilities in a basement she can not get to because of a recent fall, or two, and has offspring who wait in the wings for her to die. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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Top Answer
Call your local Office of Aging and see if someone can go out and evaluate the situation. Make sure u give childs name and address. I believe there is a level of responsibility children need to take on when it comes to parents.
There could be another side to the story as someone else commented here. She may resist the kids' help with her house or health; maybe there's a good reason that they don't visit or seem to care. Kids don't just disappear on a loving parent for no reason.

My mother appears to be a saint, but was cruel to my pets and mean to me my whole life, making sure to do it all when no one was looking. She put on a wonderful front to her family and a wide circle of friends, none of whom will hear a bad thing about her.

Just sayin' that things may not be what they seem...
Does she have a doctor?

If she makes an appointment, can she get a cab to come and take her?

Has she looked into a service that will pick up her laundry and deliver it? 

Is she thinking about selling her house and moving to an Independent Living place or Senior Apartment?  Have you talked to her "kids"?  

There are SO many folks here who try to get their elderly parents to accept that they can't live at home anymore and the elders dig in their heels and refuse to leave.  I'm wondering if that is what's happening here.  

I agree that calling the local Area Agency on Aging is a great idea, but there are two sides to this story.

You're very sweet to want to help--but be very careful how much you offer to do--I've seen people get dragged into caregiving when all they wanted to do initially was be a support, or minor help.

There may well be a reason her family is not involved--I know my mother would paint herself as being totally neglected, when in fact, she simply pushes family away and wants attention from others, who will "poor, poor pitiful you"--just as she wants.

There's at least 2 sides to this story, perhaps more. Just be a little wary, OK?
It seems you know quite a bit already. Just go talk with her, find something in common to talk about, get her talking, if you’ve visited with her an know these things as fact, talk more about current living conditions, questions to see response, cooking, (what do you Ike to eat) her activity ( my electric bill was better this month) you know she can’t wash her clothes, is she kept up herself ? maybe help. I would do what you’re doing, observation, look at her needs and contact age caring. Her age or any noticeable problems weren't mentioned, it’s the holidays, loneliness is a serious killer. You’ve got a good heart, be cautious an gracious.
Very good answers above. However I think it may also be worth considering that the son may just be tied up in his own life and not realising how difficult life is getting for her. My MIL is very independent and remains quite capable in her 80s of living alone having adapted astonishingly well to the sudden death of her beloved husband several years ago. She rarely calls for support and hubby often needs prompting to give her enough attention. I know in her younger years she did annoy him a bit as parents often do but they love each other very much and she is truely a wonderful woman. However he is works very hard in multiple roles that just take his attention unless she asks for something which he then willingly gives. I also suspect that he struggles with accepting her getting older. It was a huge shock to all of us when FIL went and as the eldest my hubby buried a lot of his emotion in order to be strong for the others. So it is possible that the son is simply unaware of the true depth of her needs. Personally I am always grateful for others giving me insight into my mother. I may not always accept what they have to say but I hear it. Is it worth reaching out to the son as well and just seeing how much he is aware of?
I agree that some elderly parents shut out their kids. Despite begging them ( elderly parent) to allow you to help they become angry and insist they need no help. It is known as pride. But we know that pride comes before .........
I agree that there may be more to this story than meets the eye. Bare in mind that not all adult children SHOULD be helping their parents. For example, I have taken on the brunt of caring for my disabled mother. My sister, even if she lived a mile away, would not be able to adequately care for our mother. Frankly, it would be disastrous. She has no patience. She's impulsive and has a life long history of poor decision making. Perhaps the son is unable to care for his mother, or as others have hinted, perhaps she has refused his help or even led him to believe she doesn't need help and hidden her vulnerability from him. It sounds like she is a fall risk at home and does need help. Perhaps a frank conversation about her needs and wants will help determine the scope of the situation. If she is willing to move to a safer environment with a little more help and supervision, and access to social programs, that could be better and you could help her by helping her find such a place. But if she's unwilling to go anywhere, and she has the capacity to make that decision, you, nor her son, can force her to do anything. It is clear you mean the best for her. But I think a little more digging is probably necessary. If she falls again, you might consider going to the hospital with her and talking with their social workers about her living environment. They often have resources and recommendations and can sometimes elicit the help of hesitant relatives to assist. Ultimately, her safety is priority.
It may be that this widowed lady (how long ago?) would rather not involve her children if they're not going to volunteer; and I personally feel that's fair enough. Even saintly old ladies can be seen very differently by their children. Or I wonder if I should have said "especially" saintly old ladies. Some mothers' standards can be quite hard to live up to as a lifelong challenge.

Depending on how long she has had to adjust to being alone, it may be time to research and propose options for moving on. If it was very recent, then perhaps gather contact numbers for useful services (and I agree about calling the Area Agency). If that's already been done, it isn't working, and things are just continuing downhill after a decent mourning period, then she may need the more structured support of a retirement home or assisted living facility.

I hope you're able to help her find a way forward.
Kudos to you for being concerned about your friend. Agree that there might be sides to the story that you aren't aware of.

Generally as a friend, the main thing you can do is try to learn more about how your friend -- and perhaps her son, if you know him -- perceive the situation and feel about it. And then you can try to nudge your friend to do things that would be better for her. You can also offer support and encouragement to your friend.

Your friend might be suffering from bereavement or depression; these might get better with time, or more social activities, or might require some professional assistance.

In the long run, it sounds like her living arrangement isn't particularly suited to helping her thrive in late-life. (I recently heard geriatrician Bill Thomas say that "Houses kill!")

So you could gently talk to her about it. How does she feel about her situation? what does she think would help? Can you help her work towards that, whether it's getting more help in the home or starting to think about moving to a smaller place without stairs? Does she at least have a way to call for help if she falls while alone at home?

And does her thinking seem to be pretty clear, or is there any possibility she might be slipping mentally? (She also might be mentally worse than she otherwise would be, due to depression or poorly controlled medical problems.) If she seems to be slipping mentally, it would be best for her family and doctor to get more involved.

If you think she's truly in danger, you can call Adult Protective Services. Otherwise, for friendly help you would have to look into community organizations and local non-profits.

In short, no easy answers. If you show up regularly as a friend, that is already more than many older adults have available to them. You will have to decide for yourself how much effort you can put in, to helping her explore her options for improving her situation. Good luck!

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