What Do You Do When Your Neighbor Has Dementia and Is a Hoarder?

I called the city on my neighbors and I still feel horrible about it.

Let me give you the backstory: I'm a full-time caregiver for my parents, who live with me in Tallahassee, Fla. We live in a very quiet neighborhood full of houses built in the early 1980s. The homes are spacious, yards are well manicured and everyone waves at everyone when they pass by. Most of my neighbors are the original owners, including my next door neighbors, Jack and Diane (not their real names). They are, for lack of a better description, hoarders. Diane has dementia; Jack has chronic hip and back pain that has him confined to a wheelchair. They're sweet as can be. However, after Jack's latest spill and subsequent hospitalization, their children, from my take as the newbie on the block, aren't up to (or capable of) the responsibilities of caring for their parents. Diane called police, who came to their house just about every other day in November and December, when the children came over.

It was then one of the kids started to clean out the house. This is a good thing. Then they put all the trash in the front. This is a bad thing. Not knowing what was in the bags, I began keeping an eye out on what was going on. Weeks went by and none of these aforementioned bags made it to the curb for trash pickup day. In fact, the piles got as high as the cars parked in the driveway. Five weeks later I began the internal debate on what I should do. Since their cleaning started, I had seen an uptick in vermin activity in my yard. I increased the visits of pest control but there's only so much you can do. But I worried about the home's inhabitants. Jack and Diane need a safe and clean living environment. While I firmly believe their children (and one grandchild) were trying to give that to them, I couldn't risk the health and well-being of my family - me, my parents, two dogs and a cat - with this trash sitting out front. The kids have been skittish about talking to neighbors, keeping their heads down when I'm out front working in the yard, avoiding any eye contact. I must admit that I was terrified to bring up the topic to the kids.

I asked my brother, Steven, a huge civil libertarian, who visits my parents often, what he would do. I told him I wanted to respect Jack and Diane's privacy as they're dealing with significant family issues but I had to consider my family's health too. Steven respected my desire to keep their family issue private but said above all else I need to think of my family first.

I gave it a few days then called the city. I spoke with a nice woman in the codes department and told her my quandary. She said they get calls like this all the time. People want to do the right thing but have guilt about it. She also told me that there have been incidences where tragedy could have been avoided had a third-party intervened. I just told her that I'd want someone to say something if it were my parents. She filed the ticket and said someone would be out to the house shortly.

So what happened? I return from a week-long work trip and discovered all the trash bags removed. The pine needles, which were half-inch deep throughout the driveway and a huge fall hazard, were swept up. I don't know what happened inside the house. I haven't seen or heard anyone for a while.

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