As seniors age, many of them have the opportunity to move into assisted senior living, but choose not to. Instead, they insist on living alone at home. In fact, according to the Administration on Aging, about 36 percent of women and 20 percent of men over the age of 65 live alone. With the baby boomer generation entering retirement years, some are “aging in place” which refers to people who remain in their own home or neighborhood for as long as possible. Some “age in place” for financial reasons, like not being able to afford an assisted living center. Others would prefer to live at home after age 65 because they do not want to lose their sense of independence.
In fact, a 2014 survey conducted by The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found out that 87% of people over 65 years old wanted to remain in their present home and community age. Baby boomers are a unique generation that wants to stay active and independent so the idea of an assisted living community or even home care does not sound appealing. They want to age in place even if there are risks involved.
However, families and friends of seniors tend to be worried about their loved ones living alone because of safety and other reasons. There are some serious concerns and risks to living alone as a senior. It is imperative to weigh the cost of living alone. Below are some of the top risks and dangers of living alone.
Risks of Living at Home
One of the biggest risks of living at home is safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a senior falls every second in the United States and 1 in 4 adults reported a fall. Even seemingly minor falls can cause severe damage in a senior. As the body ages, the bones get more brittle, and healing can take longer. Broken bones are common and hazardous to a senior citizen who falls, but it is hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries that are particularly dangerous. If an elderly individual falls, it is essential to take them immediately to a medical professional to get checked out. There may also be psychological effects alongside the physical injuries such as lack of confidence and fear of falling again.
On a serious note, elderly falls are one of the leading causes of death and morbidity among those over 65. When a senior lives alone, they don’t have an extra person around to help make sure their home is free from falling hazards Also, there isn’t someone there to respond if a senior does trip and fall. Falling alone can be a terrifying experience.
Social isolation means that a person is separated from friends, family, and ultimately, their community. A study by the University College London suggests that social isolation significantly reduces one’s lifespan and poses both physical and mental health issues. Increased risk of heart disease, infectious illness, cognitive deterioration, and high blood pressure are all risks that a senior takes when they start to isolate socially. Social isolation can become easy if a senior lives alone and has no real motivation to go out.
Ultimately, people crave meaningful emotional contact and are happier due to the benefits of the socialization. Simple gestures such as a listening ear or even a word of encouragement can help boost morale. However, this basic emotional contact may be difficult for seniors to receive when living alone at home.
Depression and Anxiety
Depression is not just a synonym for sadness. In fact, depression can show itself as loss of interest, concentration, appetite, motivation, and overall energy. Seniors can be suffering from depression and not even realize it. Depression can be a symptom of social isolation. Because a senior is living alone, they might not be able to detect their depression. If another person lived with them, they could get a different perspective on what is going on.
Now anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause fear, nervousness, apprehension, and worrying. Some physical symptoms are insomnia, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea, and dizziness. Changes in the brain and environmental factors cause anxiety. When living alone, a senior may begin to develop anxiety due to either changes in brain chemistry as they age or the fact that they live alone. When a senior lives alone, they are at great risk for anxiety because they don’t have anyone to talk to on a regular basis.
If a senior finds themselves living alone after living with someone who made their meals for them, they are now at risk for malnutrition. Malnutrition can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, poverty, and more. Seniors might find it challenging to cook for themselves or if they suffer from memory problems, they might forget to eat. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Malnutrition in older adults can lead to various health concerns, including:
- A weak immune system, which increases the risk of infections
- Poor wound healing
- Muscle weakness and decreased bone mass, which can lead to falls and fractures
- A higher risk of hospitalization
- An increased risk of death”
Medication Management Issues
With the early onset of dementia or other memory problems, taking medication as prescribed can become difficult. A senior can either forget to take their medication or forget that they already took it. With the latter, this can mean a senior will try to take their medication multiple times a day instead of the prescribed amount. This can lead to an overdose. Top Ten Reviews puts it this way, “While taking a second dosage isn't generally much of a problem, if you're suffering from mild dementia, which could go unnoticed if you live alone, then this could easily turn into three or more extra dosages as you fail to remember taking each dosage.”
Keep Seniors Safe
Although many seniors want to live alone and maintain their independence, sometimes this is not the most viable option. If your loved one is starting to experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia, it may be time to look into other living arrangements. Assisted living communities are an excellent option for seniors who do not require 24-hour supervision, but may need some extra help with specific daily functions.