The Colorado search and rescue service stopped charging for their services because they found it was a deterrent to usage.  When reimbursement was required, people were reluctant to ask for assistance, sometimes waiting until the situation was dire.  Even then, when the search and rescue team arrived at the scene, some people refused help due to the fee.  These situations must be highly frustrating for a team whose purpose is to help.

Feeling inadequate

Driving less than a minute from my home a couple of days ago I saw a bicycle rider fallen onto the sidewalk.  I pulled my car over to the curb and helped the individual up.  It was only at that point that I realized he was an older man.  His arms and legs were bumped and soon to be bruised.  Other than letting me check that his bike was still working he refused any additional help.  I talked with him for a while, asking a few general questions.  This gave me some satisfaction that he was not disoriented and also let me obtain a bit more information so I could follow-up on his safety.  He would not let me phone anyone and would not accept a car ride with me (I have a bike rack so this would have worked).  However, through my questioning I learned his destination and his first name.  I obtained the phone number from the internet and was able to confirm that he had arrived and appeared to be fine.  It felt so inadequate to do so little.

Older adults can frustrate our attempts to help

Most of us are aware of someone who has reached a point in their life where health issues are affecting their daily routine.  You want to help but either don’t know what to do or have had your offers rejected.  Adults have the right to refuse help as long as they are cognitively competent to make this decision.  Generally what that means is that they understand the consequences of their choices.

Get ready with a counter-offer after help is refused

Be prepared for rejection of your offers of help.  The older adult may feel they are becoming a burden or they are not yet ready to acknowledge that age-related changes are resulting in increasing daily risks.  Consider these options as reasonable counter-offers to your rejected help and a way to begin to better secure the older person’s living environment.

  1. If there is a person in the household with a dementia diagnosis who is wandering, consider purchasing the MedicAlert system.  It’s very inexpensive (less than $100 annually) and provides a contact source for information about the individual if they become lost:
  2. An in-home emergency alert system that is worn by the older person (usually a bracelet or necklace) provides single button contact if the individual requires assistance after a fall.  There are increasing levels of service from these organizations such as phone call reminders for medications or daily health check phone calls.  Generally these services will cost less than $500 annually after the initial installation.  Today’s news could have been much different if these alarms were available:“In a pair of similar incidents in Victoria, two men have been found in their homes after falling and being unable to seek help for days.”(1)
  3. Exchange phone numbers with your older adult’s neighbours.  Let them know that you would appreciate a phone call if they observe anything out of the ordinary or if they have any other concern.  If bad weather or some local emergency arises these phone numbers provide an additional source for ensuring the older adult’s safety.  Cost $0.

This general feeling of inadequacy may be something that friends and family of older adults are stuck with.  However, even the small actions mentioned above may be sufficient to make a big difference if an emergency arises.


*photo from Hans via Pixabay