About 27 percent of older adults 65 and older live alone according to Pew Research. But is it safe? Is it born out of preference or necessity?
The answer to the question Is it safe for senior citizens to be living alone? is both yes and no! The real answer is that it depends. Many of the stereotypical images of an aging senior sitting alone in a dark room wishing for something to do or somewhere to go are just not accurate. While it may be accurate for some, there are many, many seniors whose lives do not even remotely resemble that image. Obviously, it is a difficult decision to make!
- 1 Why are more Seniors living alone?
- 2 What are the benefits of a senior living alone?
- 3 What are the risks of living alone for seniors?
- 4 What can a senior do to stay safe while aging in place?
- 5 What can I do to fight isolation?
- 6 PEOPLE ALSO ASK
Why are more Seniors living alone?
Seniors are living longer and maintaining their health longer. As a result, older adults are staying independent longer. Seniors enjoy their freedom. Family dynamics have also changed. The time of the Waltons has passed. Whether it is good or bad, society is seeing far fewer multi-generational households. According to the Visiting Angels organization, seniors vastly prefer aging in place to facility care even when physical or cognitive decline makes it difficult. By the way, the buzz word currently in use is aging in place. It sounds better than living alone, doesn’t it?
What are the benefits of a senior living alone?
The first question to ask is What are the benefits of living alone? The list of benefits is long but not as long as the list of risks. Seniors and their families need to weigh the pros and cons of living alone carefully. The five reasons most mentioned by seniors, families, and caregivers are:
- More comfortable and familiar: Aging in place allows an aging senior to stay in familiar surroundings with familiar furniture, familiar doors and windows, and even familiar dishes. A familiar neighborhood is a great plus, too. Comfortable and familiar are very good reasons to age in place.
- More independence: Aging in place seniors can maintain a greater degree of personal independence. They are able to live their lives as they see fit, and they enjoy a sense of dignity unavailable to many elderly adults.
- Closer to friends and family: Aging in place, meanwhile, allows older adults to stay in a familiar and highly valued space. This is a critical and underrated factor in seniors’ quality of life.
- Safer: Especially in the age of Covid-19, it can be safer to age in place. It insulates them from the bacterial and viral risks found in senior living facilities, reducing their chance of contracting a serious illness. Aging in place tends to improve seniors’ quality of life, which improves their physical health.
- More cost-effective: The reality is that getting older just costs more money! As our mental and physical abilities decline, we are going to need help whether we age in place or choose to live in an assisted care facility or nursing home. Costs of aging in place can include the cost of home modifications and the cost of in-home help.
What are the risks of living alone for seniors?
Make no mistake, aging in place can be a risky business.
- Isolation: The biggest risk of living alone is a profound sense of isolation. A study of over 6,500 elderly people by University College London suggests that social isolation significantly reduces your lifespan, posing both mental and physical health issues.
- Depression: Depression can be a symptom of social isolation, but you don’t have to be socially isolated to suffer from it. And depression isn’t just another word for feeling sad. Sadness often has nothing to do with it. In fact, it presents itself as a general loss of interest, concentration, energy, appetite, and motivations.
- Poverty: Elderly people who live alone are far more likely to be live below the poverty level and struggle with paying bills. Sometimes this is out of necessity. Not everyone is able to retire with sufficient savings. However, some elderly people live in poverty because they don’t know how to manage their retirement savings properly.
- Fall hazards: Your risk of falling and experiencing a traumatic injury increases dramatically after the age of 65. Elderly falls are one of the leading causes of death and morbidity among the elderly.
- Medication management and safety: Managing medication can be challenging for older adults. Whether it is over-medication or under-medication, the consequences can be significant. Individuals who are taking medications at home should ensure they are following the medication safety tips for seniors recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Malnutrition: Elderly people who live alone are at a much higher risk for malnutrition, which can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, poverty, and more. Many just don’t bother to eat. However, malnutrition can also simply be the result of basic nutritional ignorance.
- Housekeeping: Perhaps a senior is depressed and unmotivated. Perhaps a senior is physically unable to keep up with your house and yard. That is to be expected as they age. But maintaining basic housekeeping is another risk of social isolation with the elderly. The beloved house might be too much for a senior aging in place to keep up with on their own. That is especially true if a senior has a yard to maintain.
What can a senior do to stay safe while aging in place?
- Medical alert: A medic alert or similar device is mandatory for a senior aging in place.
- Home modifications: When an individual is considering whether or not they are able to remain in their own home due to its functionality, making some of these home modifications have been shown to enable a senior to live at home longer. Many of these modifications will also enable caregivers to provide care more easily.
What can I do to fight isolation?
Since isolation is perhaps the biggest overall risk for a senior aging in place, it is very important to be proactive about dealing with isolation. What that means is that an aging in place senior, their family, and any care providers necessary, make specific plans for ongoing, consistent socialization. The following ideas represent a starting place and are by no means all-inclusive.
- Get involved: It doesn’t really matter how. A church, senior center, book club, or card club will all fill the bill.
- Build a close circle of friends: The great thing about socializing is that it leads to new friends. With new friends, an aging in place senior will be able to look forward to new experiences and activities rather than looking back and dwelling on what has been lost.
- Check-in often: Checking in goes both ways! Frequent short phone calls and surprise drop-ins are a treat for both parties. Make a commitment to check-ins.
- Exercise: Walking is great. Perhaps a senior can combine exercising and socializing in the form of a walking club. If walking is not appropriate, pick an activity that is appropriate, and find friends with which to share. If not in person, on the phone.
- Social media: Despite all the bad publicity, social media can be a great way to fight isolation. Social media can be a great tool to stay in touch with children, grandchildren, old friends, and even church groups.
PEOPLE ALSO ASK
What does aging in place actually mean?
Aging in place is when a person lives and ages in their residence of choice, for as long as they are able to. Aging in place includes having services, care and needed support in the residence as well. These needs may change over time and as the individual ages
What does aging in place mean for older adults?
Aging in place enables older adults to maintain their emotional connection to their homes, neighborhoods, and people in their communities. All of these factors contribute to how a person perceives their personal identity, so older adults may feel that they can more comfortably be themselves by aging in place.