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Today, as I was going up the stairs to my local subway stop at work, a very elderly, very infirm and very disabled woman was attempting to walk down the two flights of stairs with her two canes. One man (clearly a good Samaritan) was helping her and another joined in when it became clear she needed more assistance than one person could give. With each step down she gave out a yelp of? pain? fright?


I made my way up to the subway platform and was able to see her, inching her way down a major avenue in Queens with her canes, one step at a time. No one was with her.


Would you have called for assistance? Stopped to ask her where she was going and why she was without someone to escort her?

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Yes, helping an older person walk can result in falls. This is one reason I won't allow my mother to hang onto my arm while she walks with her cane. When she's with me and out and about, she uses the rollator.

When she goes to Mass with her friend, she hangs on to her friend's arm while she has the cane in her other hand. I think it's unsafe; I've told her so. Her friend is 80 herself. My mother's response is that her friend can't put the rollator in her car.

I've done my part. If they fall, so be it. It won't be on my watch, and I can't be blamed! (I can really see my mother blaming me if she were to fall while hanging onto my arm; somehow it would be MY fault.)
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I would have probably asked her if she needed assistance but I do have a story to relate on this subject. When my Mom was in her mid-eighties two young men offered her assistance crossing the street. We had had a big dump of snow and the roads hadn't been cleared properly. She didn't want the help and kept refusing. They insisted. They ended up slipping and carrying her down with them. She ended up with stress fractures in her back and to be honest went downhill soon after that. Before this happened she was still a vital, strong, active woman and I've often wondered maybe she would still be with us if two, well-intentioned young men had just let her walk across the street on her own.

So, moral of this story. Make sure the person really wants and needs the help before intervening.
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Hey, Blannie, I used to tell my children the reason I had them was to help me keep track of my car. Well, now it's the grandchildren's job! For the life of me I've always had the hardest time remembering where I parked the car :)
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What I would have done if it were possible is to follow her at an unobtrusive distance and make sure she made it to her destination safely. That could have taken a while, but at the moment I'm not so busy. I wouldn't want to intervene on her sense of independence if I could help it, but I wouldn't want to leave knowing she might need some help. Usually things like this turn out okay because there are a lot of people who want to help.

About where the children are -- she might not have had any or they might all be sons. (Sorry, caregiving men. I couldn't help myself. Bad me.)
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I will ask more often than not if someone needs help, if the person looks like they might want some assistance. I seem to see older people who've lost their cars in the parking lot more than anything else (I live in the burbs).

Unfortunately, I see people when I'm driving that I could give a lift to (people carrying bags, etc), but in today's climate, there's always the concern that getting involved could result in a bad outcome for you as the Good Samaritan.

I think if you're going to walk away and feel bad that you didn't help, you can at least ask if the person needs some assistance.
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It's a fault of mine ...I almost always get involved. Sometimes with a good outcome; sometimes not. But I can't keep going and sleep. Honestly, the young man who came home from N Korea and died keeps me up at night. I wear my heart everywhere... (BTW that's not for everyone --no judgement here. Please don't take it that way.)
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This can be a hard call. My first thought would be to offer help, offer to call a relative, or a cab, or just ask if this woman needed help. But today I had to chastise myself because after someone held the door for my father as we entered a medical office, perhaps 5 minutes late a woman pushing a rollator left with I believe her caregiver. It didn't even occur to me until she was out that I could have gotten up and held the door.

Sometimes things just jell instantly and sometimes the thought process is delayed.

I think the most helpful response is to inquire how far she's going and if she needs help. If she says she doesn't and it's clear that she does, you could offer to walk with her to ensure she gets there, or offer to call her family.

But as I said, sometimes the appropriate actions don't always appear at the right time, and I think that's for anyone, not just me.
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I was very happy that they were there. It just seemed to be such a larger problem!

A couple of years ago, I probably wouldn't have given it another thought. But being here, hearing all of these stories, the possible scenarios seem endless.

And what is the most helpful response?
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If I was really concerned I may have asked her if she needed help, but I would have been at a loss if she had said yes. In all honesty I mostly would have been happy that those two men jumped in first and absolved me of the need to intervene.
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I'm glad that was your reaction, Ms. Madge. I was torn between asking her (once she got down the two flights of stairs) where the H2ll she was going and how she was going to get back; where her children were ( expected to be told "oh, I didn't want to bother them", or "they said they'd come tomorrow, but I needed to go to the bank today"); or:
I'm going to the social security office for my mother to become her representative payee, because they said I have to come in".

Look, a couple of years before my MIL died, she ended up in the hospital in mid-July. To make a long story short, she had shlepped about 50 pounds of wood slats home on the public bus and could see no connection between what she had done and the fact that she had passed out in the 90 degree August heat.  It might have been a good thing if someone had intervened.    Or not. She might have bashed the person who tried to help or talk to her.  I just don't know.  How do you know when to reach out? 

I think we need a protocol for "Elder Help" I just need to know what it is.
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Oh dear
There but for the grace of god

I don't know what I've would have done
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