The ability to live alone varies from person to person; my grandfather, well into his eighties, had been living with my parents for several years. My husband’s grandfather, on the other hand, well into his nineties, lives independently. But for as much as it can be desirable for an elder to maintain a sense of independence, the line between alone and lonely can sometimes become blurred beyond distinction.
What’s It Like to Live Alone?
The preference or ability to live alone is very much an individual one. When you live alone, all of the household duties fall to you, and you only.
Some may prefer this, primarily if they’ve managed to hang onto the physical ability they had in their younger years. Besides being solely responsible for the day-to-day physical running of your home, such as cooking, cleaning, and running any necessary errands, all of life’s mental exercises become solo routines. You have to remind yourself when it comes time to pay the bills, or where it was you put the keys, and if you fed the dog today.
What Are the Dangers of Living Alone?
Even if a person appears to be in perfect health, there is an inherent risk of living independently. Falls are a prevalent cause for elderly folks ending up in hospitals, and should this occur while home alone, the greater the chances of the incident turning tragic. There is also the possibility of cognitively-slipping seniors either accidentally doubling up on a dose of medication or even forgetting to take it altogether.
Even beyond the physical risks like falls or miscalculated medicine dosage, living alone has some genuine mental dangers that go along with it:
- Cultivating unhealthy habits – There is evidence to suggest that people who feel lonely are more likely to begin or continue unhealthy habits such as drinking or smoking. There’s also a risk of failing to get enough physical activity, which can lead to ailments.
- Suffering from mental illness – There’s a growing trend of the isolated elderly developing such problems as insomnia, anxiety, and depression. But even more than the risk of mood disorders is the increased risk of general cognitive decline. A lack of mental stimulation potentially contributes to the hastening of conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia, sometimes even hastening death.
- Being taken advantage of – Elder abuse is a genuine problem. Loved ones may at times be too willing to trust a stranger who uses them straight up for their money, or else as a pawn in any number of nefarious schemes.
How Has the Coronavirus Affected Loneliness?
Loneliness is a common theme in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. This problem is incredibly real for those who fall under one of the most at-risk categories for the disease. But even if our parents were able to be able to venture outside in our COVID world during a shutdown situation, there’s nowhere for them to go. Places that they’d tend to hang out at – churches, bingo halls, bowling alleys, even the neighbourhood pub – are all closed, too.
And for those living in a nursing home, there are often stringent rules around visits from family, with loved ones sometimes being wholly barred from visiting their seniors under the order of quarantine.
Of course, these precautions and protocols can begin to take a toll on the elderly.
What Can Help Someone Feel Less Alone?
If loneliness presents such a risk to our parents in these difficult times, what can be done about it? Fortunately, there is much that can be done about it.
- The buddy system – Efforts have been made in the UK to pair people who live alone with young companions to give them both some much needed human interaction and to learn from someone else.
- Sometimes, a furry friend – Adopting a pet can be an excellent solution to feelings of loneliness, mostly if the if your loved one spends too much time at home. Some animal shelters and other organisations will assist with adoption fees for a new furry friend for interested seniors.
- Finding a hobby – Some communities have special clubs and activities. Call your local community centre and see if there are any clubs, organised outings, or dedicated senior transportation to help get around and meet someone new.
- Feeling Connected – Wearing a fall or pendant alarm can give your loved one a real sense of connection, safe in the knowledge that if they were to have a slip, they know they wouldn’t be left alone. A simple button on the wrist can be the gateway to a feeling of independence and security.
Can Technology Help with Loneliness?
In instances like a pandemic or being stuck at home due to illness or any other reason, loved ones may benefit from using technology to keep in touch with friends and family. Smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly more intuitive to use after the initial setup. Still, if you or your seniors are having trouble adapting to the digital world, some organisations can help with that.
Loneliness and isolation can be a real problem for our parents and grandparents. Still, it doesn’t have to be a serious one. As long as the risks are recognized, and as much effort is made, it is possible to provide the greatest generations with the support they require.