Over a quarter of adults age 65 and older live alone in the U.S., and that percentage increases with age.1 While some older adults may have family who live nearby, many do not, and may need to rely on friends or neighbors for assistance with various tasks to help them continue living at home. These tasks can range from companionship or grocery shopping to caring for them and taking them to medical appointments.

Here, we provide tips to those who may want to or are already assisting friends or neighbors who live by themselves and do not have family around. We also have preparation tips for those who live alone.

For stories in the community about helping friends, click here.

Tips for those who are helping a neighbor or friend

What Should I Keep in Mind if I am Assisting or Want to Assist a Friend or Neighbor?

Many of us provide support to our older friends and neighbors, some of whom may live alone or don’t have family in the area. Being a part of someone’s support network provides invaluable assistance. However, there are some things we should be aware of. This is not meant to discourage anyone from supporting older adults in need.

  • Every Situation is Different
    No two situations are the same, and what works for one person may not work for another. It is important to listen to the individual about what their preferences are and be open to trying different options. Also acknowledge that you probably don’t know everything.
  • Without legal designation and documentation, there are some limits on how you can help.
    Without legal designation and/or documentation, you cannot:
    • Manage their finances or make payments using their funds on their behalf
    • Be privy to their medical condition, if they are admitted to a hospital or other health care facility
    • Make medical, legal or financial decisions on their behalf
    • However, you can still assist in other ways, including:
      • Running errands for them (it is preferable that they pay for the items or services)
      • Helping with technology (setting up email, mobile devices, etc.)
      • Check-in regularly
      • Pick up medication
      • Drive them to appointments
      • Interpretation and translation help when appropriate
  • Keep a Paper Trail
    It is important to maintain documentation, especially if it involves financial, legal, or medical issues. For example, if you are getting groceries for your neighbor, ask the cashier to ring those items up separately, so you have an individual receipt for your neighbor. After your neighbor has repaid you, make note of that. While most of us have good intentions, keeping a paper trail can help protect ourselves.
  • Encourage your friend or neighbor to ensure their legal, financial, and medical documents are in order
    If they have not done so yet, encourage them to complete a will, advance health care directive, and designation of a power of attorney.
  • Set boundaries
    Think about what you are willing or not willing to do, as you are helping your friend or neighbor. Perhaps you can check in on them regularly, but you can’t or are not comfortable giving them rides to medical appointments. It is important to have these boundaries in mind and also to not feel guilty if you are unable to assist with certain things.
  • Keep the following in mind. These may be situations where professional assistance is needed.
    • Does it seem like the older adult is in, or has the potential to be in, a dangerous situation?
      • Are there sign of financial abuse?
      • Are they able to live their daily lives normally, or do they seem to be having difficulty with things such as mobility, housekeeping or hygiene?
      • Are there any physical bruises or cuts?
      • Have you not seen them in a long time?
      • Do they seem confused? Are they not making sense when they speak?
    • Do they have other people they can ask for help?
    • Are you finding yourself making financial or medical decisions on their behalf?

Below are some resources for those assisting a friend or neighbor:

  • Legal & Financial Issues
    • Estate planning attorneys and financial planners can assist with the preparation of various legal, financial, and medical documents.
    • Professional fiduciaries are licensed, third-party individuals who, if designated, can make legal, financial, and medical decisions on a person’s behalf. (
  • Social Services
    • Social service agencies can assess an individual’s situation and coordinate services, if additional help might be needed or if the person appears to be in an unsafe situation. However, it is important to note that social service agencies can be limited in what help they provide, especially if they do not have the individual’s consent.
    • Consider contacting Little Tokyo Service Center for resources on Japanese and English social services (


1: and Disability in America/2018OlderAmericansProfile.pdf

Thank you to Little Tokyo Service Center, Staci Toji, and Iyashi Care for their assistance with these articles.