February 11, 2019

According to reports from the AARP, roughly 90 percent of people aged 65 or older want to stay in their home, for as long as possible. But what can you do to help when the time finally comes that your senior parent or loved one can no longer live at home by themselves? Read on…

Seniors Living Alone: It’s All About Their Health and Safety

Studies have shown that the vast majority of older adults prefer to stay in the comfort, familiarity, and safety of their own home for as long as possible. Aging in place has numerous advantages for the elderly, and for their loved ones.

The Benefits of Aging In Place for Seniors

For one thing, it is certainly more convenient and, usually, far less expensive for an older adult to remain at home. Even factoring in the costs of making home upgrades or bringing in outside support, it is generally far easier and more cost-effective to help a senior remain at home, rather than uprooting them and moving into expensive, institutionalized care.

At the same time, living at home comes with numerous health and lifestyle benefits. Often, it is easier for an older adult to remain connected with their friends and family when they live at home. Similarly, aging in place can help promote greater independence and feelings of fulfillment in older adults.

On the flip side? There are often drawbacks to older adults staying at home – particularly if they’re aging in place without any support or attention.

The Potential Drawbacks of Living Alone

While living alone can help seniors remain independent for longer, it can also put them at risk. For instance, older adults who spend all their time alone often suffer from higher degrees of loneliness than more socially active adults. Loneliness can beget depression and anxiety, and contribute to a whole host of physical health problems, as well.

Similarly, when older adults live alone, they may find it harder to live life to the fullest. If a senior can no longer drive, for instance, they may become even more isolated and withdrawn. If an accident or a health emergency should happen, an older adult who is all alone may not be able to get the medical care or help they need, when they need it. And even before a major accident strikes? Older adults may not recognize the “warning signs” when they need help, unless there is someone there to spot little changes as they happen.  

Is Your Parent Healthy Enough to Live Alone?

Aging in place solo can work for some older adults – but it’s not going to be the right fit for everyone.

This is particularly true if your loved one is not healthy enough to live alone, without additional help and support from family, friends, or a professional caregiver. While many older adults can get by on their own, the reality is that many need extra attention and care.

Right now, many seniors are living without assistance or care, when they really shouldn’t be. According to reports, roughly 29 percent of elderly adults lived alone as of 2010 – despite the fact that 12 percent of seniors needed assistance completing activities of daily living (ADLs). Even more sobering? According to reports from the Alzheimer’s Association, about 25 percent of dementia patients live alone in their community.

As a loving family member to an older adult, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on your loved one. Often, you may notice signs that it’s time to bring in help for the senior in your life – well before they recognize or acknowledge any warning signs themselves.

So, what should you be on the lookout for? Here are a few “yellow flags” to watch out for, as you spend time and check in on your aging parent or loved one:

  • Unable to keep up with ADLs (sitting, standing, walking, bathing, grooming)
  • Physical changes (weight loss, bruising, giving up on hygiene)
  • Changes in their home (not keeping up with housekeeping, allowing clutter to get everywhere)
  • Socially isolated and withdrawn (stopped returning letters or calls, ignoring social groups or gatherings, giving up on hobbies and interests)
  • Mental or behavioral changes (memory lapses, abusive behavior, trouble communicating, mood swings)

What Can You Do to Help?

If you notice troubling mental or physical changes in your parent, or you suspect that they can no longer live on their own, what can you do to give them the support and attention they need? As a family caregiver, you have a few options:

Coordinate with friends and family

If your parent still has a strong social network, it may be time to get them mobilized. It could be time to have your loved one move in with yourself or sibling – or for one of you to move in with them. In other cases, it may take an extra level of coordinating with local friends and family, to make sure that your loved one has visitors and supporters stopping by as often as possible.

Look into assisted living or institutional care

If your parent has significant health needs that cannot be met if they continue to live alone, it may be time to look into assisted living. In this arrangement, your older loved one lives in a community with other older adults, so that they can get consistent medical attention and support. In other cases, you may want to look into arranging for home nursing or in-home medical care, having a skilled medical professional come to assist your parent with rehab, maintaining their medicine regimen, and so on.

Connect with a professional in-home senior companion

For older adults who need non-medical assistance (for example, help with housekeeping, meal prep, laundry, and driving) or just some extra social support (in the form of a friendly face to play games, share meals, or hold conversations), your best option may be to bring in a professional caregiver or companion. Non-medical home care is a cost-effective and flexible option. With caregivers available full- or part-time, you can ensure that your aging loved one always gets the support they need, in the comfort and safety of their own home. At the same time, this arrangement takes some of the stress off of yourself or your family, giving you back time for the rest and respite you deserve.

Getting Started

Even as you recognize the need for your parent to get help or find an arrangement besides living alone, they may not realize their own need for long-term care. In many cases, for family caregivers, broaching this topic for the first time can be daunting. Before you make a change in your parent’s lifestyle, it’s important to communicate with them, taking time to listen to their wants and needs, address their concerns, and move forward with a plan that can benefit everyone, as much as possible.

Of course, this can be more easily said than done. Many older adults can be resistant to change, and may see any attempts to help as a personal slight. As you start to consider addressing your parent’s care with them, be sure to go in with an open mind.

If it helps, involve other family members in the conversations, as well as people your relative knows and respects, such as their medical professionals or, perhaps, a community or religious leader they’re close with. In many cases, seniors will respond better to the idea of getting “help around the house,” rather than “care.” Emphasize the upsides, and stress that this is about helping your loved one maintain their independence – not take it away.

And finally? As senior care expert Jacqueline Marcell once wrote, it helps to get these important conversations started as early as possible, even before warning signs start to show. As she put it:

“The best way to increase the odds of a parent accepting help later in life is by starting conversations about long-term care early on—long before their health and cognitive function start to decline. When a person’s wishes have been discussed openly for years (and properly documented with living wills, trusts, and powers of attorney), the transition is far less traumatic when they must be acted on.”

How Companions for Seniors Can Help

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one remain in the comfort of their own home, including assistance with housekeeping, ADLs, driving, and more.

If you have any questions about helping your parents age in place, don’t hesitate to reach out to us to get the conversation started. We’re here to offer guidance and provide support, in whatever way we can.