I am worried about my Mother who is in her early 90’s and she still lives alone in her apartment. She says she is fine and fights me every time I suggest she move either in with me or into a seniors’ building. Do you have any suggestions for me to mention to her about some of the risks of her living alone?
Your Mom sounds amazing and she clearly is fighting to keep her independence, who wouldn’t. Let’s take a look at some of the major risks of living alone for care recipients and older adults. For daughters like you and caregiver in generals, these risks just add to your stresses and the list of things to worry about.
- Medication Mismanagement. Missing scheduled medications or accidentally overdosing can have serious consequences. Having a medication buddy at home would help reduce these risks.
- Financial issues: Living alone is expensive. There is only one person to pay all the bills. What if there are extra expenses and no reserves to cover them? What if bills are forgotten and put aside without payment? What if the power is suddenly turned off?
- Social Isolation – can reduce your life span, increases your risk of heart disease, higher blood pressure, infectious illness and cognitive deterioration (according to study by University College London of 6,500 elderly people). People living alone often have to “force themselves” out of the house to stay connected and participating in society. Sometimes too much isolation decreases the purpose for living.
- Home is not updated and has safety issues. It may be dangerous or impractical to live in a home that has stairs, doors not wide enough for a wheelchair and bathrooms that do not have raised toilets seats, grab bars or improved lighting.
- Depression – can cause loss of interest, appetite, energy, concentration, and motivation. “Why go on living? Nobody is here or cares about me”.
- High levels of anxiety – can be insomnia, dry mouth, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness in feet and hands, muscle tension, feelings of being unsafe. Anxieties can make for more stress and poor decision making.
- Emergency situations: No one at home to help in an emergency, falling or burning yourself on the stove are bad enough with others in the house to help. Being alone may leave you without medical attention for hours or even days.
- Poor nutrition or malnutrition. Can cause anxiety, weight change and mood changes. Eating too much junk food will pack on the pounds, while eating too little may drop your weight to unhealthy levels. Eating healthy and regular balanced meals can be a challenge when living alone.
- Housekeeping. Perhaps with no one else living at home or few people dropping by, the idea of keeping a clean and clutter free home is not important. When it becomes too dirty and too cluttered, it is unlikely that visitors will be invited in. When was the last time the sheets and dish cloths were washed? Has the kitchen floor and refrigerator been cleaned this week? It might be longer than you think.
- Hoarding is recognized as a risk of living alone. Too many possessions and rotting food may lead to clutter and unwelcomed critters in a home. Hoarding can disrupt one’s ability to live well, safely, and healthy in their own home.
- Greater chance of missing medical symptoms. Who is there to give an opinion of your health? What if you are having a stroke or heart attack alone? What if you miss or ignore what is happening to you? What if you guessed wrong that you were ok?
- No wheels, why bother? If you live alone and don’t drive, you are often dependent on others to pick you up. Even regular tasks such as shopping, going to medical appointments can be become overwhelming and not done on a regular basis. You may be more inclined to skip shopping and seeing your doctor.
- Personal hygiene such as regular bathing, brushing your teeth, washing and cutting your hair can become less frequent if there is no one at home to tell you that you look grubby and stink.
- Dirty clothes. Wearing dirty clothes can become a habit. “Who cares if my favorite shirt has gravy and coffee stains on it? Nobody is here to see it”.
- Victimized or abused. If you live alone, you may be an “easy target” to be taken advantage of, either by family members, new friends, or strangers.
- Less contact with family, extended family and friends means less chance to stay socially engaged.
- Alcoholism. Drinking alone is never a good idea and being alone means that there are no social cues to help you limit your consumption.
- Boring life: There is nothing new to look forward to and daily routines are just that, routines; same old, same old.
- Reduced physical exercise. Living alone and sticking with a regular exercise routine if often hard to do. Many factors such as no one to exercise with, health problems, fear of injury or falling, lack of balance, energy, support, knowledge and determination, may stop those living alone from being physically active. Some too we are just lazy. Ironically, exercise is just what is needed to help live a more risk free independent life.
- Lack of personal safety: There is “safety in numbers”. Having someone else open your front door or pick up your telephone will let the world know that you are not alone. Being alone means it is “just me” to “project me”.
I hope that some of my ideas will resonant with your Mom and allow her to make the best decisions to help keep her independence and reduce the risks of living alone.