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Providing emergency help shouldn't tag neighbor as full-time caregiver

Carol Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: I own a condominium in a building where two elderly sisters live. Though we didn't spend time together we'd always been friendly and they seemed to have plenty of other friends, though no family.

Three months ago, the youngest sister fell and needed to go to the emergency room. The older sister asked for my help so I called 9-1-1 and accompanied them. I was happy to help, but now that the younger sister is home they have both grabbed on to me as their savior. They want rides to medical appointments, help with their checkbook, and even cleaning. I telecommute with work so, while I am home a lot, I don't have much free time. It seems that the ladies' declining health has scared away the other friends and suddenly I'm "it." I feel trapped into being their caregiver and that's not what I intended. How do I get out of this situation? — MB

Dear MB: It's kind of you to be such a considerate neighbor, but helping out in an emergency is one thing and becoming a perpetual caregiver is another. Your neighbors are desperate for help, and you happen to be there, so they've tagged you as their savior. Sadly, this very situation is one reason some people fear getting involved with older neighbors.

Now that the emergency is over, it's time for you to be honest with them. Tell them that you have to make a living and must maintain a full work schedule, but you are happy to work with them to set up agency help.

You could begin by going online to www.aging.gov. After choosing your state you will be led to a full list of services that can be accessed by clicking individual links. You will likely have to investigate several resources but, once you find contacts, these contacts should be able to refer you to the proper agencies.

Your Area Agency on Aging (N4A.org) will likely be on the list, but if not, contact them, as well. AAAs have different names in their varied locations so going to their website may be your best approach. There are 622 AAAs in the U.S. that have been helping older individuals for a long time. Your story won't be new to them and they should be able to provide solid advice.

You also could talk to the ladies about hiring an in-home care agency to do work around their home, as well as accompany them to appointments, help getting groceries and other tasks. Assist them in vetting the agencies. Once they find someone whom they trust, they may begin to ask the agency for more assistance as they need it.

You are a good person to have helped this much, but your intention was to help out in an emergency, not devote your life to your neighbors' care. It's uncomfortable to have to tell them how you feel, but based on your own considerations, doing so is in everyone's best interest long-term.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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