Many seniors want to live independently throughout their retirement years. Many choose to live at home or in retirement communities that are well suited to meet their unique needs. While living alone may be a desirable option for many seniors, some issues must be considered before making this decision.
Creative alternative arrangements have cropped up to meet the needs of seniors living independently. Some live with friends, pooling resources and sharing in household tasks. Others live in senior apartments that include amenities like swimming pools, classes, exercise facilities and on-site salons. Others live in inter-generational housing, sharing their space with younger adults and families.
Are there Drawbacks to Seniors Living Alone?
While many people champion the trend of senior independence, others worry that it is setting a dangerous precedent. A study by the University College London has shown that living alone can lead to an increased risk for dementia symptoms, depression and social isolation. As seniors choose to live alone, they may be far removed from the social supports that a community of loving family members and friends provides. Social isolation has long been linked to a shorter and lower quality of life.
The Administration on Aging released a report that stated that 1.3 million seniors were living alone in 2010. Almost half of all seniors living independently were women who were living alone, either widowed, divorced or never married. A shocking number of these seniors living alone need ongoing care for help with daily living tasks including bathing, dressing and cooking,
While more than 90 percent of seniors express a desire to live in their own homes, many of them do so not out of a sense of independence, but a financial necessity. Nearly 70% of seniors with dementia and related conditions live in the community, either independently or in family homes.
What to Consider Before Allowing Seniors to Live Alone
When deciding whether a loved one should live at home or in an assisted living facility, there are several factors to consider.
In order for seniors to successfully live alone, they should be able to manage their daily prescription regimen, remember to take all required dosages and keep up with refills. Missing medication dosages can be dangerous, so this is one of the main considerations when making the decision whether or not to allow your loved one to live alone.
As mentioned before, social isolation is a major mental health issue that can affect the decision to live alone versus in a community. Not only can social isolation lead to depression, it can make it difficult for your loved one to get help in an emergency.
Poor nutrition can easily become a problem with seniors who choose to live alone. With nobody to prepare meals for them, they may stop eating altogether. Cutting back on eating often decreases the appetite, leading to a destructive cycle that can have major health implications.
If your loved one is prone to dementia-related conditions, he may have problems remembering to attend to financial matters like paying bills. This can lead to dangerous utility shut offs and loss of services. It is wise to evaluate your loved one’s capacity for financial management before deciding whether independent living is appropriate.
Home Hazards and Injury
Many seniors live in homes that are not properly equipped for aging-in-place. Loose carpets, slippery tubs and hanging cords can be hazardous. A senior who lives alone can be hurt for many hours or even days before help arrives. It is important to outfit the home properly before your loved one lives there alone.
Housekeeping issues can disrupt the environmental quality of living in the home and create hazards. Unwashed dishes, garbage not taken out and dirty bathrooms can invite rodents, cockroaches and mold into the home. A lack of attention to housekeeping can also invite clutter, which presents a fall hazard. If your loved one is not able to keep up with the day to day upkeep of the home, it may not be feasible for them to live alone.
While being the victim of violent crime is extremely rare, seniors living independently are often targeted by criminals who wish to take advantage of them. These predators can include family members that steal their financial information, con artists who pose as friends and intruders who wish to burglarize their homes. The key to keeping your loved one safe is to make sure there are regular visitors who will ensure his well-being.
Problems in Dealing With Independent Seniors
The problem with making the best decision for your loved one is that most seniors believe they are totally capable of taking care of themselves and will resist attempts to move them to a home. The fact is that, while most independent seniors are perfectly capable of caring for themselves, others may not be aware of their declining faculties. The line between capable and dependent is often blurred, and it is often difficult to notice the signs that your loved one is no longer capable of living alone.
Signs of Diminishing Capacity
- Weight loss – Many seniors simply forget to eat or skip meals. This can lead to gradual and even drastic weight loss.
- Messy Finances – If you visit your loved one and find a stack of unpaid bills or utility shut off notices, it may be a sign that he is not functioning well on his own.
- Suspicious Friends – Sometimes new “friends” will pop into your loved one’s life, spending unusual amounts of time with him or her. While this can be a harmless and beneficial relationship, it can also indicate the beginnings of a confidence scam.
Preparing a Home for Seniors
If your loved one insists on living alone, there are several precautions you can take to ensure his safety and quality of life. Creating a home that is senior-friendly will help make this transition easier.
If your loved one will be living in a home that is on one level, accessibility will be less of an issue. If, however, you have a senior that uses mobility aids such as walkers or wheelchairs, you will need to make some modifications to the home. Consider installing a ramp and widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs.
Create one-floor living by using and modifying first floor rooms to be used as bedrooms. Make sure they can access the bathroom easily without having to climb stairs. If there are no bathrooms or bedrooms on the first level, consider installing stair lifts to make getting up and down the stairs simple.
Many people consider getting adjustable hospital-style beds for seniors living alone. This not only allows them to get in and out of bed easily, it can also help for medical examination purposes. Add in personal effects in their bedroom such as family photos and treasured quilts for extra comfort.
Many falls occur in the bathroom, so it is important to include this room in your home modification plan. Consider installing shower seats and roll-in showers. Grab bars to prevent slips and falls and non-skid mats are a must in senior bathrooms. Outfit the toilet with a raised seat and bars to make the process easier. Consider installing an emergency alarm in the bathroom in case your loved one needs to call for assistance.
Dark hallways and stairways can be particularly hazardous to seniors who may be suffering from poor eyesight. Install lights in dimly lit areas or use economical tap lights that will guide their way in the darkness.
Pay close attention to closets which can pose a hazard if stuffed too tightly. The last thing you want is a senior rummaging through a cluttered closet which can lead to a fall. Avoid stacking heavy objects on high shelves which can fall and cause an injury.
Hiring Professional Caregivers
Even after you have taken the right precautions, it would still be wise to have another adult in the household. In-home caregivers can provide a number of services and can make it easier for your loved one to live alone.
This is the lowest level of care, and is best for seniors who are largely independent but need a little help with day to day living. Companions often provide conversation and help to combat loneliness. They can also check to make sure he is taking his medication, eating properly and bathing regularly.
Companions usually don’t administer medication or provide medical care. They can visit occasionally or stop by each day if necessary. Companions usually don’t have medical or nursing training, but can be life savers when it comes to ensuring your loved one is safe.
Nursing care is often helpful for seniors who are mostly independent but are showing the first signs of decreased capacity. In home nursing care can include administering medication and making doctor’s appointments. An in-home caregiver can help your loved one pay bills, make doctor’s appointments and attend to household chores.
If your loved one wants to cut his own grass, his personal nursing assistant can supervise him to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.
Medical in-home Care
If your loved one needs more intense care, there are at-home senior care services available. These nurses administer medication, change dressings, change catheters and monitor your loved one’s vital signs.
At Retire at Home, we know how hard it can be to care for an aging relative. Retire at Home provides respite services that allow you to take a break, knowing your loved one is in good hands.