Many people want to live independently as long as possible, but there are several disadvantages of elderly people living alone. Some of the disadvantages can be mitigated by supportive services provided by family, friends, and even social service organizations. For some seniors, though, these services may not be sufficient to allow them to live at home. Interestingly, approximately 80 percent of the elderly living alone in the United States are women.
Disadvantages of Elderly People Living Alone
The disadvantages of elderly people living alone range from safety and health to psychological well-being.
Elderly people are often subject to falls. Medical conditions common in elderly people, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, may affect balance and physical strength. Also, chores requiring the use of a stool or a ladder are best left to non-seniors; however, elderly people living alone often attempt these tasks alone instead of waiting for a friend or family member who can help. In addition, while living with someone may not prevent a fall, it usually means that the victim of a fall gets immediate attention.
Seniors living alone are subject to financial fraud and a variety of scams. Offers that are clearly too good to be true come in the mail. Phone callers fish for personal information and administer a variety of con games that may deprive seniors of their life savings in one fell swoop. Even the Internet, which can connect a lonely senior with the outside world, can be the source of e-mail messages that "phish" for personal information and make fraudulent offers. A companion can help monitor these scams. In addition, a senior living alone may find it costly to live alone.
People who live alone are less likely to prepare nutritious meals than those who share meals with others. They may opt for quick snacks and empty calories, especially if they have a health condition that makes meal preparation tiring or difficult. Social interaction with other people makes it more appealing to sit down for a complete meal.
One of the disadvantages of elderly people living at home alone is failure to recognize life-threatening medical conditions and obtain appropriate medical care. Minor medical conditions may be ignored until they become serious; companions tend to urge their partners and family members to seek help early on when medical issues arise.
A significant number of seniors notice decline in memory that may affect their ability to safely carry out household chores. Failure to turn off stoves, heaters, irons, and other appliances that can cause house fires is more common in the elderly. Smokers who forget to put out cigarettes, pipes, and cigars may also be in danger. Forgetting to pay bills, perform tasks of basic hygiene, and to take medications on time and in appropriate doses are other concerns for memory-impaired people living alone.
Ways of Mitigating Disadvantages
The disadvantages of living alone can be reduced by a number of interventions and assistive devices.
Reducing Slips and Falls
Bathroom falls in the shower and bathtub can be reduced with non-slip mats and the installation of grab bars. Frequently-used kitchen items can be placed within easy reach. The number of throw rugs and floor mats should be reduced or eliminated, and, if they are used, they should be secured.
Mitigating Financial Risks
Seniors living alone can be educated about the dangers of financial offers that seem too good to be true. Family members can offer to help with bill paying, balancing of accounts, and review of financial offers, so that the elder asks for feedback before accepting a questionable offer. A companion can also share housing and other expenses to improve the senior's financial outlook when living on a fixed income.
Encouraging Better Nutrition
In many areas, nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels offer nutritious food to qualifying seniors. Many seniors attend congregate meals at local senior centers, where they also have access to satisfying social interaction. Family members can also help by providing seniors with prepared foods for immediate consumption or for the freezer. It also helps if, from time to time, friends and family members offer to share a meal with an elder living alone.
Monitoring for Health Problems
Family members and friends can visit seniors regularly to monitor for health problems and to assist them in getting necessary health care. Memory problems can be subtle, but the consequences can be serious for the person living alone. If a family member suspects the onset of dementia, medical advice should be sought. Unfortunately, in cases such as Alzheimer's disease, memory loss can be dramatic and placement in an assisted living environment may be required. Medical alert devices are useful in case of falls and in case of medical emergencies.
Individual Choices and Individual Accommodation
Even though there are disadvantages of elderly people living at home alone, some people find their independence is more important to them than any disadvantages. With appropriate assistance from family and friends, and with the use of assistive devices, many seniors are able to live alone even into their eighties and nineties.