Helping an elderly neighbour

Yesterday I helped an elderly neighbour and made the poor old bloke cry with happiness. When my wife and I moved into our suburb we found two demographics; young families, gaggles of kids in tow, most of whom themselves are new to the area and the older generation whose own families have flown the coop.

The elderly neighbour

Most of our neighbours are young families. We have an older Macedonian couple on one side who are mates with an older Aussie couple down the street. The blokes often meet outside our place and shoot the breeze. There’s the rumoured alcoholic with his Sunday arvo classics; we’ve heard Bolero start with the snare drum audible from our place. Thirteen minutes later the entire southern hemisphere feels the full force of Ravel’s masterpiece.

Directly across the road is an elderly bloke who must be in his late eighties. He’s single and has a daughter in Queensland and a son in Melbourne; neither of whom visit. He is also one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. He wanders the neighbourhood and is known by everyone. He’s also a walking op shop; he is donated toys and books that he cleans and recycles to other neighbours. He also recently had a heart attack and is struggling a little, though be damned if he’d admit it.

The phone

I bumped into this bloke yesterday and while chatting with him became increasingly concerned for his welfare if he was to have a fall or even lock himself out. I discovered he’d been given a seniors’ mobile phone, a Doro PhoneEasy; big buttons, big fonts. But he said it didn’t work, so I headed inside for an hour to help him get it sorted.

What I found was that the phone, while pitched at seniors, was still very confusing to use. Firstly, he was pressing the green talk button to turn it on. It’s green for go. That makes sense. I showed him the miniscule power logo on the red button, so he pressed that instead. But it has to be held for three seconds to turn the phone on. He got it, but I saw that he’ll forget, especially if he’s in strife and the phone’s off.


The world has been embracing the “ICE”, or In Case of Emergency concept on mobile phones. The idea is to put a record in your contact list called “ICE” so emergency services and other first responders can contact your next of kin. The Doro PhoneEasy (and quite possible others) take this one step further; the first phone book entry has a medical icon and includes the owner’s details; name, age, conditions, allergies, medications and of course emergency contacts. I set this up for my neighbour in three minutes flat.

I also added my number to the first speed dial button; I’m always home across the road and if I’m not, I will at least have the phone on and can make any other calls I need to. I also included my wife and another neighbour. They’ve both helped this bloke recently.

Unfortunately the speed dial buttons also require a three-second push and will bring up the number and dial it automatically. This of course is a different behaviour than if you find a number in the contacts and manually choose dial. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re eighty and both your vision and mind are on the fritz, these differences could almost be the difference between life and death.

Do you have any neighbours who are on their own for long periods of time? Is there anything you can do to make them feel more comfortable that they’ll have support when they need it? To me this was one hour out of my day that could have a huge impact on my neighbour. And i’m chuffed.

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