Almost every elderly person wants to be in their own home for as long as possible. Their home holds special life achievements and represents an independence that no one wants to give up. But, is living at home the best option for an aging person? With aging also come concerns about safety, nutrition, health, and socialization. The impact of these concerns can be the difference between healthy independent living and the need for assistive services. If you are a family member of an elderly person living at home, consider how these concerns may impact you and your loved one.
The most common medical conditions affecting the elderly are hypertension (high blood pressure), Diabetes, and Heart Disease. These conditions lead to decreased physical strength and stamina and affect balance; and along with age-related vision and hearing problems can increase the risk for falls. Even in the absence of one or two of these problems, elderly persons may continue to complete daily chores using less than safe methods.
Anyone who lives alone knows how boring it is to cook for one (or two) people. The elderly are no different. But, for them, boredom may not be the only factor in lack of meal preparation. Mobility problems, memory impairment, inability to get to the grocery store for food items and even arthritis can influence meal preparation and impact nutrition. Poor nutrition can compound or even create health issues. Very often elderly will snack throughout the day rather than prepare nutritious meals, especially if they are eating alone. A nutritiously prepared meal combined with social interaction makes a meal more enjoyable and increases the likelihood that more food will be consumed.
Any person living alone, but especially the elderly, may not recognize both subtle and obvious changes in health and seek appropriate medical care. Many diseases like Parkinson’s, renal failure, or cancer require almost around the clock attention and care that many spouses, friends or family just cannot provide. Of additional concern is the failure to take medications at the right time or in the right dosage. These errors can occur even when a “medication system” is put in place by a spouse or family member. Sometimes even forgetting to bathe or groom on a regular basis can place an elderly person at risk to develop medical issues like urinary tract infections.
Socialization, Isolation, & Depression
Living alone at home, or even living with a spouse or occasional hired care giver does not provide enough mental and social stimulation. Study after study has shown that social isolation can be as detrimental to a person as smoking or obesity. Prolonged isolation can also lead to other problems like memory impairment or depression. These problems can greatly impact declining health, nutrition, and safety.
Many elderly today are adamant about living in their own homes despite their needs for certain services. These folks may need a great deal of support from family and friends to keep the disadvantages to a minimum. Even with intervention, the disadvantages may not be completely overcome and the emotional and financial burden on the family can be enormous. If you are a family member concerned about the care and well-being of a parent or other loved one living alone, you will need to consider the commitment it will take to maintain their “independent lifestyle.” The burden of care for your loved one can deplete your personal finances, disrupt your family life and increase stress for everyone involved. Before this becomes the situation, consider the option of placing your relative in a reputable retirement and assisted living community. These communities have professionals onsite who will monitor and respond to safety, nutrition, and health needs. They also provide many opportunities for recreation and socialization thereby reducing the likelihood of isolation, depression and declining health.