As of 2015, over thirteen million seniors were living alone and that number continues to rise. If you have an elderly member of your family who wishes to retain their independence by living alone, there are several dangers of which you should be aware.
The Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London conducted a decades-long study on isolation, social loneliness and the effect it has on seniors. According to the study, infrequent contact with loved ones and isolation reduce the number of years in a person’s lifespan. Social isolation not only affected their mental health, but it also caused high blood pressure, cognitive deterioration, an increased risk of infection and heart disease. It is essential for the well-being of any senior that they have frequent visits from the people they care about, companionship and socialization.
Depression and anxiety are also common among the elderly. Depression goes much further than just feelings of sadness, it also includes a general loss of interest in things once loved or enjoyed. Anxiety occurs at a much higher rate in seniors living alone. They may feel unsafe and scared to be alone and yet not want to live in a nursing or residential care home. Depression and anxiety manifest in physical ways as well. One who is depressed may appear lethargic and complain of frequent aches and pains. Someone experiencing anxiety suffers many symptoms such as insomnia, dry mouth, trembling hands, feelings of doom, racing heart, shallow breathing, a feeling of being faint or light-headed, nausea, dizziness and numb hands or feet. It is easy to mistake anxiety for age-related health issues, so it is important that family, friends or a companion watches for these signs. Seniors should have someone they trust to talk to about any mental health issues they are experiencing.
After the age of 65, the risk of falling and sustaining a grave and serious injury significantly increases. This can add to feelings of anxiety for seniors if they feel they will have no help available during an emergency. Sadly, falling is one of the main causes of morbidity, immobility and elderly death. Falls commonly occur for several reasons, such as poor vision, unsteady gait, arthritis in their lower extremities, poor balance, a cluttered walk space, vitamin deficiencies that contribute to weak bones, medications that cause sleepiness or dizziness and unsafe lighting, carpeting or rugs. It can be helpful to have a healthcare professional evaluate the senior’s home to see if the appropriate safety equipment, such as railings or handles, should be installed or if there are any other home safety concerns. This can alleviate anxiety for you and your elderly loved one.
It’s no surprise the age group taking the most prescription medication are seniors. Medication prescribed to the elderly comprise more than one-third of all prescriptions written. The average senior takes five to seven prescription medications daily. With their various pills and various times that each need to be taken, seniors who accidentally overdose is an all too common occurrence. Pill reminders and containers that sort the pills out to be taken each day can help. On the other hand, with aging comes not quite as sharp of a memory, and seniors forgetting to take medication is also just as common. Seniors should have someone responsible for checking to see if they have taken their medication and in the right doses every day.
A good and healthy diet is essential for your elderly loved one’s well-being. Malnutrition is a serious risk for any senior living at home alone. Risk factors for malnutrition include reduced cognitive functioning, limited finances, reduced mobility, lack of energy and depression. While seniors don’t normally eat a lot at one sitting, it is vital they have access to healthful food, lean meats, whole grains, good protein, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables.
Another danger of seniors living alone is how clean and sanitary is their home environment. With reduced mobility, lessening stamina and endurance, illness and other health problems, many seniors have trouble with housekeeping. Physically, they may not be able to do basic chores like bending over a toilet to scrub it, taking out the garbage, lifting wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, pushing a vacuum or standing at a sink long enough to do dishes. This can lead to unsanitary conditions that no senior should have to live in, so it is necessary for their loved ones to either assist with housekeeping chores or enlist the aid of hired help.
Not only are most seniors on a fixed income, but, unfortunately, they are often the target of scams and unscrupulous people. A companion can help watch out for their best interest financially and monitor any offers that seem too good to be true.
Many seniors want to live out their remaining years in their own home and retain their independence. If this is truly their choice, measures should be taken to ensure their desire is fulfilled. However, there are some warning signs that your loved one should not be living alone, without at least some assistance, such as issues with managing their medications, poor eyesight, inaccessibility to emergency help, malnutrition, an illness that leaves them unable to care for themselves, inability to pay bills on time and social isolation.
Seniors deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in their advanced years. Helping a senior who has chosen to age at home is one way they can retain their independence and live their life as they see fit.
Miami Home Care Services was created to enable Dade county seniors to maintain their independence when living alone by matching elderly persons with screened and certified home care aides.