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Can A Person With Dementia Live Alone?

Many adult children and caregivers whose parent(s) have some form of dementia struggle with the decision as to whether or not their parent(s) can continue living on their own or is it time to move on to another form of housing or caregiving status?

Can People With Dementia Live By Themselves?

During the early stages of dementia, it can be safe for that person with dementia to continue living alone but as the disease progresses – more and more assistance will more than likely need to be provided.  For best results, I would recommend that plans be made once the diagnosis has been made to prepare for possible changes in housing and levels of care.

My friend’s father had slight to moderate dementia and he was living in an assisted living facility but did not require any assistance with self care. The only amenity he took advantage of was the meals they provided, which was only breakfast and dinner. Otherwise, he lived alone in his apartment and took care of himself quite well.

He passed away before his dementia got worse so there was no need for him to make any changes to his living environment.

Generally, the early signs of dementia include any or all of the following:

  • memory problems with recent events and misplacing items
  • personality changes
  • trouble concentrating
  • confusion performing daily tasks
  • difficulty identifying current date and time
  • problems communicating with speech and/or writing
  • difficulty with simple problem solving
  • apathy and depression

Many times the person affected (and their loved ones) easily dismiss these symptoms as simply part of aging.  But I urge you to not be so casual about any of these events, especially if they are occurring multiple times.

A clip from the movie Away From Her beautifully demonstrates how subtle the early signs of dementia can be.

In my personal experience, as long as anyone with dementia is able to keep to a structured schedule – they can normally live alone as long as the disease remains in the initial, mild stage. 

I would, however, recommend to add safety features to their home environment such as…

The problem is that dementia is a progressive disease so although some medications these days are able to lengthen the amount of time someone can stave off the progression – it will eventually catch up with that individual if they live long enough.  So the best course of action is to make plans as soon as possible as to what the next course of action(s) would be.

One note of caution that I would mention based on my years of experience in working with individuals with dementia is to avoid that person with dementia a new skill.  It’s extremely important for them to continue doing whatever they do in the manner that they have been doing it for many years.

It’s simply very difficult to learn and remember a new way of doing something so when deciding what safety measures to put in place in their home – consider using products that they will either not use (such as automated lighting and safety knobs) or that they have been using for some time and are very accustomed to.

Normally, people with dementia of any kind do best when there is a strong structure in place. They are living in the same house they have lived in for years, they are doing the same thing at the same time, every day. Structure.

How Long Can A Person With Dementia Live?

Generally speaking, the consensus amongst medical professionals is that those diagnosed with dementia can life with the disease for about 10 years but this is a very general number.

Dementia is often called a ‘life limiting’ condition although people have been known to live with it for as long as 26 years after they first start showing symptoms. – Livebetterwith.com

But of course, this depends on multiple factors…

  • other medical conditions the person has
  • the specific type of dementia the person is afflicted with
  • the living conditions and amount of support and care the person has

How Many People With Dementia Live Alone?

A survey published in 2019 in the UK found that…

Currently, there is up to an estimated 120,000 people living alone with dementia in the UK. This number is predicted to double to around 240,000 by 2039.  – Alzheimer’s.org.uk

The growing number of Baby Boomers – did you know that 10,000 seniors a day turn 65? will only accelerate these numbers dramatically.  So, for adult children of aging parents or anyone who may be caring for a senior loved one – it’s important to speak to those seniors about the possibilities and what outcomes they would like to see happen.

Here are some tips on how to talk to a parent with dementia.

  • It’s important to approach conversations gently and calmly.
  • Make sure you’re being as direct as possible and use names instead of pronouns whenever you can.
  • Avoid talking to your parent like they’re a child.
  • Use body language to help convey your feelings and thoughts.
  • Most of all, be understanding and supportive of their limitations.

I strongly recommend to begin implementing a system of caregiving as soon as a diagnosis is made or even beforehand if you notice these signs or suspect that there is some type of cognitive decline occurring.

The point is to get your senior loved one used to these new “habits” so that they can hopefully continue with that structure if their cognition continues to decline.

At What Point Do Dementia Patients Need 24 Hour Care?

From my experience, the initiation of 24 hour care is normally provided when the dementia has progressed to the point where your senior loved one is unable to perform daily tasks in order to care for themselves and/or they are a danger to themselves and/or others.

This can of course occur during the late stages of the disease but I have seen instances where caregivers began 24 hour care prior to that.

The symptoms of late stage dementia are generally:

  • inability to communicate at all or to be understood
  • inability to ambulate on their own
  • inability to perform simple tasks such as eating, brushing their teeth, bathing, dressing, etc.
  • inability or having difficulty with swallowing
  • inability to follow simple commands or instructions

Making the decision to make changes for yourself or a senior loved one with dementia can be extremely difficult and it may be possible that speaking to a social worker or care manager may help you through that process.

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