Last week, three elderly people — including 84-year-old Alice McGaw from Sun Prairie — died from exposure to extremely cold conditions. Another possible tragedy was averted in Madison when an alert individual brought an elderly person in jogging pants out in the cold to a police officer.
One of the definitions of community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
Part of those goals in a community include the well-being of friends and neighbors.
It could be as easy as knocking on the door, or as difficult as asking children of elderly neighbors about contact information.
Here are some tips for staying vigilant, but not intrusive, when looking out for an elderly neighbor:
1. Record your neighbor’s full name and phone number — either by writing it down or putting it into your phone. Call the home to check on your neighbor, and if everything is fine, just say hello. Vocal contact is essential for you to determine their state of mind and possible fatigue or medical issues.
2. If physically able, offer to help with physical tasks such as snow removal or groceries. It’s a fantastic opportunity for younger neighbors to help senior neighbors. Get the kids involved so they know the feeling of simply doing something good without a reward.
3. Get a phone number for your neighbor’s closest friend or family member. This can be as easy as introducing yourself to the friend or family member during a regular visit: “If I’m ever concerned about your (insert senior’s name here), it would be nice to have your number.” Give your name, email and phone number to the friend or family member, but also offer boundaries that include not being completely responsible for your neighbor. This puts the family member or friend on notice that they need to help with your neighbor, too.
4. If your neighbor’s family decides to purchase an alert bracelet or necklace for your neighbor, consider being a first contact person (but only if you feel comfortable).
This likely means getting a key to your neighbor’s house, and the phone service will call you if he or she presses the emergency button and needs assistance.
Although the emergency phone services vary, if you cannot respond (because you are at work or out of town), the phone service will have other options for getting help.
5. Let police and EMS know. Neighborhood officers from the Sun Prairie Police Department need to know their neighborhoods and neighbors to remain responsive in Sun Prairie.
A recent change in state law will allow EMS paramedics to make wellness checks for chronically ill. Chances are, emergency phone services have already tipped both services to the presence of any senior neighbors, but making contact with police and EMS shows you are concerned and puts your neighbor on their radar for welfare checking — especially when weather conditions become dangerously cold.
6. Be a nosy neighbor. Is the paper on the porch past noon? Is there a bunch of mail smashed into the mailbox? Check on your neighbor to make sure everything is OK — they will appreciate it.
7. Watch out. If you sit by your window and watch the birds or other pets in your yard, chances are you have a great view of the neighborhood (which includes your elderly neighbors). Watch to make sure neighbors aren’t locked out of their homes in pajamas or wandering the neighborhood without proper attire. Invite them in or call police if you are concerned.
Being good neighbors ensures our elderly are safe and keeps Sun Prairie a great community.