Neighbor to Neighbor Dealing with the Problems of Aging Residents

What happens when people begin to notice that their next door neighbors are having difficulty with their mobility, are suddenly at risk of falling or have fallen, are confused about where they are and begin to exhibit this and other types of changed behavior. Maybe it is a husband or wife and the healthier spouse can no longer cope with taking care of the spouse who is disabled or ill. Contrary to what people think about the tri-state region, people really do care about their neighbors.

Oftentimes people know that these individuals have adult children, who live out of town. Naturally, they care about their elderly parents but they often are not aware of what is happening. The neighbors do not know how to contact them or feel awkward because it is not their business to get involved. What happens when these neighbors have no children at all or even close relatives?

A Historical Retrospective

Long-time seniors living in cooperatives and condominiums in the Garden State now are the first generation of people who began living independently from their family in any kind of significant numbers. These people are the World War II vets. Their adult children have all probably moved away from the places that they had grown up in. This pattern began after World War II. Prior to World War II, families lived in the same community and took care of aging relatives. They took jobs, married among the community and raised families there. Aging relatives were not alone and isolated.

During the 1980’s, many apartment buildings converted from rental properties to co-ops and for the most part, these former renters in their early years, became owners, and purchased the converted apartments. They were in their 50s and 60s, healthy and living an active lifestyle.

However, over the years, things changed. The co-op or condo’s oldest residents start to suffer from failing health and become unable to take care of themselves. These neighbors have gone from being vibrant seniors to those suffering from illnesses such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, heart problems, vision and mobility issues and much more.

In addition to failing health, they often feel isolated, living all alone in their apartments, with no one to care for them. Their spouses have died, their children live at a distance and they have lost the capacity to care for themselves. They may also become prone to hoarding and alcoholism issues.

Who’s at Fault?

Many adult children believe that the building staff is available 24/7 to take care of their ailing or aging parents. If their parents fall, they cannot rely on the staff to pick them up or perform other services. They do not understand that it is actually against union regulations.

The children living out of state, perhaps, speak with their parents regularly, but do not visit often. It is not that they are uncaring but they are busy with their life: their work, their children and other responsibilities. A simple phone call does not reveal the true state of the parents’ health , mental and physical well-being and the ability to manage their affairs, both financially and socially. They believe that their parents are the same individuals that they were 10-15 years ago. Living well and managing their lives.

The Board of Directors

Prior to conversions in the 1980s, rental buildings did not have boards of directors. Residents had landlords who were not directly involved in the daily operation of the building as the boards of today are. They generally did not live on site. In contrast, board members are an integral part of any co-op and condo community.

The board of directors are generally aware of the problems inside their buildings and often know the residents there and the people that care for them. However, they believe strongly that it’s not the board’s responsibility to assume the care and oversight of aging or difficult residents. And they are absolutely correct. It is not the board’s responsibility to become involved in caring for unwell individuals, despite however good-intentioned they may be. The board, however, does have a responsibility to the shareholders to ensure the financial stability of the corporation and if the individual is unable to pay the maintenance then the board must intervene.

What’s the Board to Do?

The board, under its governing documents, should have a list of emergency contacts for all individuals in the building. If the resident has adult children, close relatives or other guardians, they should be contacted and advised of the situation. Likewise, a certified Geriatric Care Manager might be brought in, who can assist them in caring for their parent or relative. A geriatric care manager specializes in managing the care of aging adults when their relatives are at a distance.

A geriatric care manager is a health and human services specialist who acts as a guide and advocate for families who are caring for older relatives or disabled adults. Knowledgeable in any of several fields related to care management, such as nursing, gerontology, social work, or psychology, a geriatric care manager has a specialized focus on issues related to aging and elder care. This professional is able to address a broad range of issues related to the well-being of their elderly or senior client and can help turn a bad situation into a favorable outcome. For more information about geriatric care, go to www.caremanager.org.     

Susan Birenbaum is a certified geriatric care manager, a New York State-licensed clinical social worker and an MBA with her own practice, Humanittude, LLC.

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