With medical conditions like Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s. etc. on the rise amongst the senior population, it is becoming more and more of an issue for the elderly who are living alone. Seniors experience isolation from the outside world quite often and sometimes miss out on opportunities to socialize with their friends and family.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons, more than 77 percent of the seniors in America would like to remain in their communities for as long as possible. Although the familiarity of the home environment provides emotional benefits to the elderly, it has been observed that too many elderly are living alone when they should be considering assisted living.
How can living alone be dangerous for seniors?
Each one of us would wish to see our loved ones healthy, secure, and safe. However, in order to ensure this health and safety, it is very important to understand whether their physical and emotional needs are being fulfilled in the home setting. This becomes a concern especially if they are showing signs of memory loss or other cognitive impairments.
Most accidents related to seniors happen in their own homes due to multiple hazards around the house. Some of these accidents can result in serious injuries and sometimes can turn fatal. Fall-related hazards are a serious threat especially for the elderly with brittle bones. A broken hip for some senior citizens can turn out to have a long-lasting impact on their daily lives.
What are the signs that an elderly person should not be living alone anymore?
If given a choice, older people would prefer to stay in their homes for as long as possible so as to maintain their independence. As an adult child, you might not be inclined to fight with the parent who is determined to live on their own. However, there may come a time when a living arrangement would have to change for the sake of the safety and welfare of your parent.
The role reversal of this kind is not only difficult to navigate but challenging as well in terms of knowing exactly when and how much help your elderly parent needs. However, there are some warning signs that you should probably watch out for so that you know when is the time to stop your parent from living alone anymore.
Sudden weight loss
If you notice that your parent has suddenly lost weight and are looking thinner than the usual, this may indicate that probably they are not eating well. This can be the sign of the start of a cognitive illness. People suffering from memory impairments like Alzheimer’s disease, often forget to eat their meals, or how to manage and cook their meals. This leads them to lose weight.
They may also be sick without knowing that. They may be clinically depressed and having a reduced appetite because of that or their taste buds may have gone weaker.
If loss of appetite seems to be the case, you might want to discuss the possibility of getting a person to help them out at home, probably a home aide to ensure that they are receiving adequate nutrition on a daily basis. If possible, you may also consider moving the elderly to your own home or to an assisted living facility.
Forgetting to pay bills
Forgetting to pay bills sounds harmless if it happens once or twice. But if this happens every month for a longer duration, it might be a sign of a bigger issue.
Most bills come around the same time each month and in all likelihood, your loved ones would be paying them for many years. All of a sudden forgetting to pay them every month can be alarming and an indication of the onset of memory-related illnesses.
Stacks of unopened mail
Another indication of growing cognitive impairment can be heaps of unopened mail in the house. Keep a close eye out for unopened mails especially from creditors or charities to whom your elderly parents would not normally donate to.
See this as a red flag as they might have lost control of their judgment when it comes to spending smartly. This may unnecessarily lead them into debt very rapidly if left unnoticed.
Ignoring personal hygiene
If your elderly parent who would always like to look sharp and has an impeccable dressing sense, suddenly stops looking after themselves, this may be a sign of a health concern or simply a lack of interest in keeping neat appearances.
You might want to investigate this further as this may be an indication that they are unable to take care of these aspects of their lives. It may be that they have stopped caring about their appearance or they simply need assistance in getting ready on a daily basis.
In addition to this, for someone who is suffering from ailments like dementia or Alzheimer’s, remembering all the steps involved in taking a shower can be a challenging task, especially since this is a daily task. They might find it difficult to understand why they would be required to take a shower and how to do that. This would leave them with an unhealthy hygiene routine.
They might also have physical trouble or might be feeling unsafe while taking a shower. Clinically depressed patients also feel unmotivated to indulge in daily personal hygiene based tasks.
Getting lost in familiar places
It should be easy to remember for your elderly parent to navigate through familiar places like the grocery store, the place of worship, the local market, or their place of worship.
If you realize that they are finding it difficult to find their way to these places, consider it to be a big red flag that something is wrong. If you cannot trust their ability to navigate their own city, it might be apt to discuss moving them or having a live-in help just for the sake of their safety and well-being.
Changes within the home
If your parent has always been a bit messy, having a cluttered house may not be necessarily a bad sign. But if they have been very particular about cleanliness all their life and start letting the order slide all of a sudden, it might be an indication of an underlying cognitive issue.
Additionally, you might want to keep an eye for household items showing up in strange places around the home. For instance, finding a carton of milk in the dishwasher instead of its regular place within the refrigerator may be concerning.
Changes like these are often signs of dementia. and they can be a clue to show that your loved one cannot stay home alone any longer.
Struggling to talk on the phone
If the calls to your parents end up making both of you confused or frustrated, it is time to start taking note of small changes with regards to communication with your parent. If the elderly’s comprehension or hearing makes having a regular phone conversation challenging, you must talk to them about taking an action on this immediately.
If they are finding it difficult to understand you in the conversation, they might be facing similar issues while talking to their doctor or other important people in their social circle. Telephone scams that target vulnerable seniors are dangerously common. This sort of confusion by your parents can make them a very easy target for these scammers.
Shifting of internet habits
If your parents are internet savvy, keep a check on strange or unusually new online habits. They might be ordering things that they don’t need or do not use. They might be taking on additional debt and might also be facing identity theft issues.
In addition to this, you should also keep on checking their social media accounts on a timely basis to ensure that they are not accidentally making friends online with potentially dangerous people. These are common symptoms for those who are suffering from cognitive disorders, as it is difficult for them to tell who is a friend and who is a foe.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other kinds of chronic ailments have the ability to disrupt circadian rhythms and can thus keep your loved ones awake all night and drowsy throughout the day. It is a known fact that sleep is quite vital to the cognitive and physical well-being of an individual. Missing out on sleep can worsen the mental and physical condition of a person.
If it seems that your loved one’s lack of sleep has started to put a significant impact on their health, you might want to consider help or expert supervision. This can also be an indication of an underlying health condition. The elderly can also benefit from consulting a geriatric psychiatrist who has the ability to assist them in managing sleep-related issues.
Unusual and unnecessary medications
If you find the medicine cabinet of your parents suddenly filled with unusual and in some cases, unnecessary medications, a cognitive impairment might be considered a possibility for this behavior.
Many patients suffering from ailments like dementia and Alzheimer’s often misuse over-the-counter medicines accidentally in a bid to treat something which is not really the main problem. In such cases, do ensure that your parent is taking the medications that they require.
Check whether they are taking their medicines at the right times. If you find unused months-old bottles of daily medication in the house, it might be because they do not remember taking them anymore.
Hoarding or an extremely defensive nature
With ailments like dementia, people sometimes become hoarders or even defensive, combative, or suspicious of others around them. This includes their own family members.
The reason behind this is that they are unable to differentiate between those who are trying to help them and those whose intentions are to hurt them.
Some seniors go to the extent of purchasing guns to protect their homes. Having a gun (or any other weapon) in the house can turn out to be very dangerous. This should be flagged as an indication that it is not ideal for them to live alone in the house.
How to initiate a conversation with your parents about living alone?
The conversation with your loved ones about the possibility of having a home aide or moving them to an assisted living facility can be quite difficult.
When most seniors start noticing the signs of physical or mental debilitation, they choose to ignore it and often do not report it. If confronted, they would negate it and try to allay your fears treating them as unfound.
The best way to address this issue is to approach the issue delicately by asking them how they have been feeling and whether they have witnessed any changes recently in their usual behavior.
You can then take the conversation ahead by introducing the idea of getting help stressing the fact that it is a smart step looking at the current situation. The elderly with declining cognition often cannot figure out that something is wrong. It is therefore quite important to take the conversation slowly and account for your loved one’s perspective as well.
Moving your aging parents to another living arrangement that can offer them care, support, and safety is a difficult decision. But sometimes, it is the only way that can help them stay safe and healthy.
It is ideal to keep a check on these warning signs and address the situation accordingly. In case you doubt that your loved one is suffering from cognitive impairment, it is suggested that you consult with a medical practitioner and check for the accuracy of your assumptions.
If required, the decision to get a house aide or moving them to a nursing home or an assisted living facility can be appropriately taken.