Being a good neighbour for the elderly starts with a smile and looking for signs that they're OK

Being a good neighbour for the elderly starts with a smile and looking for signs that they're OK

Being a good neighbour for the elderly starts with a smile and looking for signs that they're OK

Updated 20 July 2017, 13:30 AEST

This week an elderly couple were found dead in their home after a neighbour raised the alarm with police.

How much does it take to be neighbourly to your elderly neighbours?

On Wednesday, police Superintendent Dave Darcy made an impassioned plea for people to reach out to seniors in the community after a couple were found dead in their home.

It was unknown how long they had been dead for.

The situation is sadly a common one.

"This is a really tragic story and one that we hear in the home care space repeated," David Martin, general manager at Hammond Home Care Services, said.

"Particularly in winter time and particularly from older people living at home and are socially isolated as their community changes around them."

Hammond Home Care Services coordinates about 150 volunteers who go out and visit older people living in their homes.

"People are really thankful that someone has taken the time to get to know them," Mr Martin said.

"To build a relationship with them ... and to engage with them and enjoy their company to give that message, 'I would miss you if you weren't here'."

"The neighbours in my grandfather's street noticed his blinds hadn't opened one day. They called my dad. Dad went to the house and found that he had passed away in bed." — Natalie

What are we afraid of?

Catherine Murphy from the government-funded Neighbourhood Centre in Hawkesbury said many people were at first wary about forming a relationship with an older person.

"A lot of people are fearful that if they strike up a conversation with an elderly person they will be latched onto," she said.

"But that's not what being neighbourly is about.

"You don't have to take responsibility, it's just about noticing things."

Ms Murphy said if a person started to show some dependence, community services such as the local neighbourhood centre could step in and help.

Look for signs

Joan told ABC Radio Sydney that her mother made it difficult for neighbours and friends to keep in touch.

"I live in the inner west and my mother lives in the Blue Mountains. She has Alzheimer's and she still insists on living on her own.

"She's very active in her church, she still plays the piano, but the problem is that she's so feisty that she frightens her friends.

"If anyone offers to visit or help, she won't open the door to them. We've had a lot of trouble to find her care."

Alison Brook, national executive officer of Relationships Australia, said unfriendly elderly neighbours might be an indication that dementia was "cutting in" or a sign of "protectionism" if they have had a bad experience with previous neighbours.

But keeping an eye on neighbours in these types of situations could simply involve watching for tell-tale signs such as an overflowing letterbox.

Ms Murphy advised: "Don't be afraid to go knock on the door and check.

"If they bark at you that's OK, at least you've checked."

Just say hello

"Loneliness in Sydney is just going to increase. The way we're going with high-density living, it reduces contact with neighbours.

"I moved into a group of townhouses five years ago and we enter our house by the basement carpark. I can go for days without opening the front door. We just don't see neighbours any more." — Arthur.

Ms Brook said Arthur's experience was "very common" but that there were other ways to mobilise communities to start looking out for each other.

Being neighbourly doesn't just refer to the people living next door.

"Always start off with a smile and a wave," she said.

"Even if it's not reciprocated, keep doing it. That makes you a safe person and a friendly person.

"These are the things that will make you the person they might approach when the time comes."

Once initial barriers are broken down, Ms Brook said you could take the next step by dropping a card in their letterbox to say Merry Christmas, for example, or drop off a cake or invite them to tea.

"Once that's established you can say things like, 'I've noticed you don't have family around, is there anything I can do to help?' It's an invitation for them to share their fears."