My Elderly Neighbors Need Help, but There’s Only So Much We Can Do

Q: I live in a co-op apartment on the Upper West Side. There is a rent-stabilized apartment on my floor occupied by an older couple who have lived here for 50 years and have serious health issues. This morning, one of the occupants, who has advanced dementia, opened my apartment door, which was briefly unlocked, and was standing in my living room! I was able to gently escort her back to her apartment. Building management said that they have spoken to the city’s adult protective services, which has investigated and declined to act. This is a terrible situation — there are no interested family members, and the couple is often unbathed and walking the halls. What can we do?

A: The situation you describe is no doubt difficult, but there are resources available for you and your neighbors.

Involving building management, as you have done, can be helpful. If the building receives reports from several tenants and passes them to adult protective services, caseworkers can get a better idea of what is going on.

“It’s good for APS to know that there’s multiple concerns coming in from multiple different people,” said Jennifer Schranz, a licensed clinical social worker with the New York City chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. A confused resident wandering into someone else’s apartment is an important piece of information that APS should know. “You don’t want someone who is cognitively impaired to be entering your home,” Ms. Schranz said, as it could become a safety issue for both parties.

APS referrals can be made online or by calling the central intake unit at 718-557-1399, and should be made when someone is having physical or mental difficulties and cannot meet their basic needs. These referrals can be anonymous, and can be made by anyone with knowledge of the situation, or by the person in need.

In instances where people require help with meals or personal care, or a visitor to keep them company, New York City’s Department for the Aging has in-home services. A neighbor or family member can call Aging Connect at 212-AGING-NYC. People do need to consent to these services. Regular visits, for things like home-delivered meals or help with bathing, are a way to assure older adults remain physically and mentally fit, and services can be adjusted as people’s needs change.

Dementia professionals also staff help lines run by CaringKind and the New York City Elder Abuse Center, and they can offer advice, said Dina Patel, a geriatric psychiatrist on staff at NYCEAC.

“Although the neighbor may feel alone in this situation, it can be quite common for a neighbor to be the primary contact for a person with dementia,” Dr. Patel said.

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