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Can I find a guardian for my elderly neighbor?

Elder abuse, neglect or deteriorating health can be a difficult subject to broach, especially when speaking to a neighbor. What can you do as a non-family member? Can you legally get involved with their well-being? Is it even your place to get involved? If you're a concerned neighbor, you do have options for helping an elderly neighbor.

Things to consider

First and foremost, if you suspect elder abuse or neglect of a neighbor, then it is appropriate to call Adult Protective Services. You do not need proof of abuse or neglect, but can report the circumstances that are causing concern. You will be asked for the name, address and contact information for the person you are concerned about, and the reasons you are worried. Your report will be investigated, and in some circumstances, Adult Protective Services may initiate guardianship proceedings. The identity of the person making the call is kept confidential, and you cannot be held liable if the report was made in good faith.

When changes may be necessary

There are several signals that could indicate your neighbor needs additional help. Take note if you see any of these signs:

  • Weight loss - Sudden weight loss could be an indication that this person is unable to eat or prepare food on their own.
  • Unkempt appearance - your neighbor may appear to not be bathing or grooming, may wear dirty clothing or clothing inappropriate for the weather. This could indicate increasing cognitive impairment.
  • Bizarre behavior - If you notice your neighbor suffering from sudden confusion, forgetfulness, or acting in bizarre ways, it could indicate problems with medications or dementia.
  • Injuries - Bruises or scrapes could point to abuse by caretakers, or an inability to operate around the home like they used to.
  • Consistent disorientation - A neighbor consistently being unsure of where they are, who they are or speaking to people who aren't there could be a sign of serious cognitive issues.

If you observe these kinds of situations or behaviors, a change in your neighbor's life may be necessary. It is not out of line to ask your neighbor if there is someone you can help them call, such as a family member, friend, pastor, social worker, or medical provider. Your neighbor may have family members or others who can help, but they may not know how bad the situation has gotten. If all else fails, any person interested in the welfare of a vulnerable adult can petition the court to appoint a guardian. An attorney who practices in the area of guardianship can provide resources and guidance.

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