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We want to praise the “nosy” neighbor. While shown as comical in TV sitcoms, in reality concerned neighbors, friends and family members can be lifesavers for seniors or dependent adults struggling to live alone. One phone call can prevent harm and get needed help for local elders and dependent adults.

Last year, Adult Protective Services and Senior Advocacy Services’ long-term care ombudsman received 5,556 reports from callers with concerns about financial, physical or mental abuse, or self-neglect, of elders and dependent adults. That represents an increase of 7 percent from 2015.

One call from a caring neighbor to Adult Protective Services about 94-year-old Elena helped change her life for the better. She now gets vital services that allow her to safely remain living independently in her home of 25 years.

Elena’s neighbor noticed several things that worried her before calling protective services. She seemed to be depressed. Normally, she took pride in her appearance, but her clothes and hair were unkempt. She also seemed unstable when walking to and from her mailbox.

Soon after the call, social workers and other professionals visited Elena to offer services to improve her quality of life and health. Protective services helped her apply for In-Home Support Services to assist with basic daily tasks that were too much for her. A caregiver now helps with personal care, shopping and housekeeping. Meals On Wheels brings healthy meals daily. A nurse taught Elena how to take the right medications at the right time. Elena also learned who to call for transportation to doctor and other appointments.

Elena no longer feels alone because help comes right to her home. She can live there safely and independently now that she has support.

We encourage you to be a caring “nosy” neighbor or friend. Notice and report your concerns. Call Adult Protective Services or the ombudsman at the numbers below. Don’t let self-neglect as in Elena’s case, neglect by another person, physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse continue when help is a phone call away.

Here are some warning signs to look for:

— A weight gain/loss of more than five pounds.

— Strong odors from the home or person.

— Changes in mood or behavior.

— Unexplained bruises or broken bones.

— Being dirty or unwashed.

— Numerous unpaid bills.

— Discontinued utilities.

Make confidential, anonymous reports regarding elders and dependent adults in the community to Adult Protective Services at 707-565-5940 or 800-667-0404. In licensed residential or nursing facilities, call the ombudsman at 707-526-4108 or 800-231-4024.

You can also help by learning more about the warning signs during Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness Month and United Nations’ World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this month. The more we all know about elder abuse, the closer we get to no elder abuse.

For more information about local efforts by the Elder Justice Coalition to protect seniors, go to socoelderprotect.org.

This month, neighbors, seniors, family members and caregivers are invited to attend free programs about preventing and stopping elder neglect and abuse held at community senior centers. Find out more by calling 707-526-4108.

Your are also invited to visit your local senior center this month to see displays of purple flags — one flag for each report of elder abuse in that community last year. Countywide, the flags represent the 5,556 reports in 2016.

Go to #KnowAbuseReportAbuse, a statewide educational campaign to find out more about how to prevent elder abuse.

In Sonoma County, your neighborly efforts to notice and report concerns about elders is especially important. One-quarter of local residents are aged 60 and older. Help our community to be a place where everyone can age free from harm, with dignity and security.

Gary Fontenot is interim director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department Adult and Aging Division. Crista Chelemedos is executive director of Senior Advocacy Services.

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