When Should The Elderly Not Live Alone

An article written by Dr. Thomas Armstrong Ph.D., an award-winning educator and expert on human development for The American Institute for Learning and Human Development, tells us of the ‘The 12 Stages of Life”.

He writes that the human life cycle ends with ‘Late Adulthood’ (he aptly labels as ‘Wisdom’) followed by ‘Death & Dying’. These two stages remind us of the value of living. Life is a gift and we need to value each stage if we are to truly support the deepest needs of human life. Every stage is significant and we must do whatever we can to support each stage and give care and help to flourish, even in the final stages.

One of the most important things we can do for people in the final stages of life is to keep them, especially those we hold dear – safe, happy and healthy.

We want the elderly to be treated with the utmost dignity, love and respect as they reach their ‘golden years’.

With this stage, like any other, comes some big decisions and potential stress and grief.

Whether it be age-related decline or something more serious, realizing it is time to have a conversation with your parents or elderly family member about their way of living, is a serious topic, but one that needs to be had, inevitably.

When broaching the subject of delicate matters like independent living and assisted living, you need to be prepared to open the channels of communication and take it one step at a time, if it is not an urgent situation that requires immediate attention and decisions.

It’s no secret that as we age into the latter years there are some serious factors to consider when it comes to the decision of the elderly and when they should no longer live alone.

The warning signs are there, so be vigilant. What’s more, the elderly with declining cognition often do not understand that something is wrong, so tread lightly.

Look out for these tell-tale signs:

  • When their mental capacity starts to change/diminish and you notice signs of deteriorating cognition, like forgetfulness, disorientation, short term memory loss and difficulty recalling words.
  • Infirmity that infringes on their mobility and day-to-day.
  • They struggle to take care of themselves day-to-day:
    • Home chores are not getting done and their home begins to clutter.
    • Unkept refrigerator.
    • They have difficulty talking on the phone.
    • Financial issues – when money becomes a problem and the control thereof and being able to exercise appropriate judgment.
    • They forget to pay bills or are not inclined to open their mail.
    • Missed appointments.
    • Driving becomes a risk.
  • You notice a general decline in health & hygiene:
    • They seem tired all the time and are not the same as before.
    • You notice weight loss or malnutrition.
    • Injuries, bumps and bruises from walking into things, even falling.
    • Medication management is in question.
  • Personality changes:
    • They have become defensive, moody, impatient, agitated, etc.
  • Social isolation is apparent.

Once it becomes evident that living alone is no longer a viable option, even when they want to continue to live alone,  living arrangements will need to change for the sake of everyone involved.

When putting steps in place to initiate communication regarding the possibility of home help or moving into a home or where there is assisted living, consider the following:

  • Open up the discussion by putting the idea out there and give them the opportunity to have a say in the matter from the beginning.
  • Ask how they are feeling and do they notice any changes within themselves, to get the ball rolling.
  • Keeping the discussion simple is essential to avoid anxiety and tension.
  • Then introduce the idea that it might be time to look into the options.
  • Take it slow and give them the space and ‘hear’ their perspective.
  • Listen to their needs, wants and concerns.
  • Involve other close family members and consider family dynamics and what it would mean to all involved, practically and emotionally.
  • Reinforce that you just want to help and not completely takeover of their lives and that their independence will not be taken away but actually prolonged and enhanced.

Furthermore, be sure to:

  • Emphasise the health and lifestyle benefits of home help or assisted living:
    • It makes connecting with friends, current and new easier.
    • Aging in such and way and place will promote independence, foster fulfillment, ensure safety and benefit their health and welfare.

Other aspects to note:

  • Consider seriously, at least, home help, when no regular and reliable relative is available to check on the elderly living alone, frequently/daily.
  • In addition, the practicalities of to-ing and fro-ing to make sure an elderly person living alone is ok (and a call is no longer enough) needs to addressed.
  • Transitioning to some sort of help doesn’t have to be drastic, overwhelming and completely life-changing. Coming to some sort of agreement or arrangement however, is key.
  • The assisted living options to look at are anything from in-home care and adult day services to senior-care facilities, retirement villages and even house sharing with other able-bodied peers.
  • The option for an elderly parent or relative to live with you or another family member is also an option that could be discussed.
  • Above all, it is a case of considering their health and happiness for the sake of all involved. It can be a crucial turning point and can prove to be very rewarding for everyone.

“A society that does not value its older people denies its roots and endangers its future. Let us strive to enhance their capacity to support themselves for as long as possible and, when they cannot do so anymore, to care for them.”

Nelson Mandela



References to articles and further information:

  • com: “The 12 Stages of Life” from the book “The Human Odyssey: Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life”.
  • A Senior Living Resource


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