Worried or concerned about an older person? | Age 51Թapp


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What to do if you’re worried about someone

A mug of tea

"Can we talk?"

If you're feeling worried about someone, one of the best things you can do is talk it over with them. These pages are here to help you have that conversation.

It can be worrying to see someone struggling as they get older. One of the best things you can do is talk it over together with the person you're worried about, discussing your concerns and listening to each other.

Having those conversations isn't always easy. Family and friends can be deeply unsettled by signs that suggest a loved one isn't coping. Sometimes people find it difficult to have open conversations because they don't want to cause offence, or have strong emotions of their own, not wanting to acknowledge that a loved one is getting older and that they might lose them one day.

Age 51Թapp spoke to people struggling with issues in their lives, as well as family, friends and professionals who work with them. We listened to their views and concerns and drew out some ideas for how you can talk to the person you're worried about. These pages are here to guide you through that process. You can come back to this information at any time you need to.

Not able to talk to the person you're worried about?

If you think they need some practical support that you can't help with, Age 51Թapp can provide information and advice on lots of issues - from housing to health. Call our advice line for free on 0800 678 1602, or contact your local Age 51Թapp.

If you think someone is at immediate risk

If there's an immediate risk of harm, call the emergency services on 999. If you're very concerned about someone's health or welfare but don't think it's an emergency, call 111 for NHS advice, 24 hours a day.

In other situations you can contact the local council in the area where the person lives and raise an 'adult safeguarding' concern. This should be done with the consent of the person wherever possible.

If that's not possible, or you feel that seeking consent would create more risk, then you can contact the council without the consent of the person at risk.

What is safeguarding?

Adult safeguarding means protecting an adult's right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect. It is about people and organisations working together to prevent and stop the risks and experience of abuse or neglect, while making sure the person's wellbeing is promoted.

If you're concerned that someone is neglecting themselves or their environment and may be unable to protect themselves, you should speak to adult social services in the local council area where the person lives. Wherever possible, you should do this with the agreement of the person.

The local council must assess the concern in a way that puts the person first and balances their protection with their rights. If you don't wish to provide your own contact details, you can raise the concern anonymously.

If you want to read more about different types of abuse and neglect and who you can contact if you're worried about someone, visit our Protection from abuse page.  

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I want to talk to the person I'm worried about. What should I do first?

Before trying to help, it's best to be clear about what the problem is. 

Sometimes there's a really simple solution to a problem; for example, someone isn't eating properly because they're finding it too difficult to get to the shops. In which case, helping them to set up an online shop might be the best solution. But it's important to have that conversation and not make assumptions.

If you're reading this, then the issue you're worried about might be more complicated. Perhaps the person you know seems not to be taking care of themselves or their home in the same way as they used to. Or you might have noticed changes in their personality or behaviour. 

It can be really helpful to take a step back and assess your worries objectively. We can help you do that.

Assess your worries 

Things to consider

It’s important to remember that if someone is able to make their own decisions (called having mental capacity), they have the right to make choices other people might think are unwise. If you believe that someone is not able to make their own decisions and this puts them at risk, speak to the adult safeguarding team at the local council in the area where they live.

What is mental capacity?

Mental capacity means being able to make or communicate specific decisions at the time they need to be made. To have mental capacity you must be able to understand the decision you need to make, why you need to make it, and the likely outcome of your decision.

Some people will be able to make decisions about some things but not others. For example, they may be able to decide what to buy for dinner, but not understand how to renew their home insurance. Some people's ability to make decisions may change from day to day, or at different times of day.

Needing more time to understand or communicate doesn't mean you don't have mental capacity. For example, having dementia doesn't necessarily mean that someone can't to make any decisions for themselves.

Where someone is having difficulty communicating a decision, you should always try to help the person decide for themselves rather than decide for them.

This is what the Mental Capacity Act says:

  1. Assume a person has the capacity to make a decision themselves, unless it's proved otherwise.
  2. Wherever possible, help people to make their own decisions.
  3. Don't treat a person as lacking the capacity to make a decision just because they make an unwise decision.
  4. If you make a decision for someone who doesn't have capacity, it must be in their best interests.
  5. Treatment and care provided to someone who lacks capacity should be the least restrictive of their basic rights and freedoms.

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Let's recap

  1. A conversation is the best place to start.
  2. It's best not to try to 'fix' the problem or impose your views without listening to what the other person has to say first. 
  3. If someone is capable of making their own decisions, you can't force them to do something.

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