How Do You Want to Live?
What's Your Secret to Long Life?

The Gatekeepers Program

In a related but entirely separate event from my trip to the Business Innovation Factory last week, back home on Thursday I attended a training session for the local Gatekeepers Program.

”Gatekeepers are people who come in to contact with at-risk older adults and persons with disabilities through their everyday work or day-to-day activities.

“People like meter readers, bank tellers, letter carriers, pharmacists, newspaper deliverers, neighbors, friends, or family members - the list is virtually endless,” explains the Gatekeeper website of Clackamas County where I live.

“Gatekeepers keep a watchful eye and attentive ear and call the...Helpline make a confidential referral if they have identified any warning signs that indicate a vulnerable adult may be in need of assistance.”

My training session was conducted by Margaret McNamara, program planner for the Gatekeepers Program in the Clackamas County Health, Housing & Human Services department.

As Margaret explained, when a Gatekeeper becomes concerned about someone, he or she calls the program's local phone number to report those concerns along with name, telephone number or address to help identify the person. Echoing Margaret, the website of a Gatekeeper Program in Connecticut explains further:

”The Gatekeeper’s name is kept confidential and their role ends with the call. Next, a trained professional senior advocate will establish contact with the referred senior to ask if they would like some helpful information or a visit that may result in a referral to the appropriate community service.

“Should the older adult refuse help the Gatekeeper will ask permission to call again in a month to check on their situation. This service is voluntary and forcing assistance is not the goal except in extreme cases where the advocate feels a referral to protective services is warranted.”

In more than 30 years since the first Gatekeeper Program was created in Spokane, Washington, the service has proliferated throughout the U.S. (and, possibly, in Canada) - sometimes called Gatekeeper or such similar names as Senior Reach as referenced in this abstract of a 2009 study done comparing its success with Spokane's program:

”The two programs were compared for seniors served on service variables and outcome ratings for isolation, depression, and functioning. Approximately 41% of seniors served by both programs were referred by nontraditional sources: community gatekeepers.

“Findings indicate that individuals served by the Senior Reach program demonstrated significant improvement in reduction of isolators (such as social isolation), improved functioning, increased optimism about the future, increased positive activities with others, decreased emotional disturbance, and improvements on the Geriatric Depression Scale.”

At my training session, I asked Margaret about reports from busybodies. Undoubtedly you too have known a few of those know-it-alls who are certain everyone else is doing things wrong. I wondered how Gatekeeper programs make distinctions between reports from gossipy troublemakers and those of honest concern.

Margaret convinced me that the trained social workers who take Gatekeeper calls know how to ferret out the nosy parkers.

Gatekeepers programs save lives and you don't need to be a grocery checkout clerk, a policeman or firefighter. All of us can be Gatekeepers and more that ever before, after my Business Innovation Factory day in Providence, I am convinced that it is elders ourselves who can do the best job of looking out for and helping one another.

If you are interested in Gatekeepers training – it's only about 90 minutes – search “gatekeepers program” in your favorite search engine to find out of there is one in your community. Then you can phone to find out about the next training session.

Gatekeepers is a useful, important and successful program, and retired people in particular, I believe, are in a good position to help other elders who may be at risk because unlike working-age people, we are more frequently out and about in our communities every day.

Here's a video I found from the Gatekeepers Program at St. Luke's Eldercare Services in Middletown, Connecticut. It was made about three years ago by Tom Hickman Films and although it is about twice as long as it needs to be, it will answer just about all the questions you might have.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Letters From Vietnam


A wonderful program.
More than half the homeowners on our block are seniors and we check on each other, especially in difficult times such as storms, power outages, etc. It is comforting to know that people care.

That's my one worry moving away from my longtime neighborhood and into an apt. where I know no one. There is a Gatekeeper program here funded by The Good Neighbors.

I wish we had something like that here for my friend Dorothy when she was still alive. She moved near some new friends and didn't set up a safety check. She had a stroke and laid in her own vomit for days before anyone found her. She lived half alive two more years.

I think a little caution is in order given that elderly people with assets can be found incompetent and can be assigned a court-appointed guardian against their will. Many guardians (and the judges who appoint them) are corrupt and loot the estates of their charges while not using the money to fund their care. In one case, all of the elderly person's belongings were discarded and no attempt was made to find relatives. He was later placed on a feeding tube and a respirator even though he had very advanced dementia - the guardian, after all, was paid monthly. After his death, his estate was handled by the Public Administrator for his county where the looting continued with the assistance of the Surrogate Court. Personally, I would rather die in my apartment and be eaten by my cats than undergo his last year of life. If someone is intent on serving themselves rather than the elderly person there is little that prevents them from doing so. I hope to avoid encounters with the "helping" professions for as long as possible.

This is a sensitive and stark subject especially for those of us who are independent and still have our faculties.

My family lives 2000 miles away and now my son who lives nearby wants to relocate out of the area. I will be alone, as I don’t want to leave the west coast. I hope to find an affordable 62+ senior community (condo)to move to in an environment similar to where I lived years ago when I was working. If we didn’t see our neighbors or if they didn’t see us daily – someone would inquire or make a call. Most everyone was connected and respected each others boundaries without being intrusive.

I'm not sure that this works very well. The problem with dementia is that it brings paranoia along with it. My 93 year old neighbour who lived alone, had dementia that I noticed back when she was about 88 or so. I brought it to the attention of her daughter and was told that I was imagining things and I was the problem. The family and she herself went into total denial mode. She would do things like spend hours and hours in the exact same spot "gardening" on a cold day or constantly forgetting how to get back in the house - using the back door key for the front and such.

There really isn't much neighbours can do and now I just avoid getting to know the old-old people around me. I really don't want to get involved. I myself have plans to take cognitive testing every year myself on my birthday so I don't end up this way. What we really need is for doctors to do cognitive testing as part of a physical, it should be as routine as blood work for everyone over 70.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)