Updated May 29, 2022 – Living alone for older adults can be scary and lonely but it doesn’t have to be. Senior isolation is a real thing but it can be avoided if the elderly adult and family members (or friends) take steps to socialize and become involved in community activities.
Many adult children with aging parents worry about their parents living alone. It’s certainly understandable, especially if they insist on aging in place in their own homes which may be unsafe for them.
The truth is, although it may be scary for some older adults to live alone, it’s probably scarier for their family members who are worrying about their health and safety.
In the United States alone the number of people living alone is approximately 36 million men and women!
We’ll discuss later on in this article some of the best ways to be safe when living alone and hopefully that will help to bring some peace of mind to family caregivers of elderly parents.
Is It Healthy For The Aged To Live Alone?
Studies do show that for most (certainly not all) older people, living alone is not a healthy option. But this entirely depends on the individual person.
After all, someone who has been an introvert their entire life would find it extremely difficult to be thrown into an assisted living community or nursing home situation. This could cause the kind of stress, anxiety and depression that could spiral their health downwards.
But again, for most individuals who are older, studies seem to show that living alone can be unhealthy.
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.National Institute On Aging
It’s clear that feelings of loneliness can impact one’s physical health and exacerbate any existing health problems, anxiety disorder, etc. But again, if the elderly individuals and/or family members and friends work to increase socialization, community involvement and to ensure the home itself is a safe environment – then living alone could be beneficial.
Do Older People Prefer To Be Alone?
In my years of experience as an Occupational Therapist working with older persons, it seems that most older women prefer to live alone whereas most older men do not.
The latest census data from Statistics Canada show that 68 per cent of seniors who live alone are women, the vast majority of whom say that they are quite happy with that arrangement, thank you very much.The Globe and Mail
This makes sense to me, again, based on my experience and observations. Why? Here’s a list of reasons why I believe this to be true.
- Older women have more than likely gone through the life experience of caring for their husbands and it’s a difficult task they probably don’t want to go through again.
- Most women are in better health than men so there is a reasonable likelihood that the woman in the relationship will end up caring for the man.
- Most older men lived through a time when the women in their life cared for them, cooked and cleaned for them, etc. They want that back.
- Women tend to be more social than men so they usually have more companions, are involved in senior centers or social activities, etc. They are not as lonely.
- For older women who have lived with abusive husbands, the idea of getting trapped again in another relationship is extremely unappealing.
I’m sure there are many other reasons that could be added to this list but from the literally thousands of elderly adults that I have treated throughout the years – these are the reasons that I saw that would contribute to why some elderly people would prefer to live alone.
Is It Normal To Be Scared To Live Alone?
Absolutely. There is nothing weird about being afraid to live alone. Many widows find that for the first time in their lives, at an older age, they are living entirely alone. It can be downright frightening to go to bed alone at night.
If you feel that you’re out of line for being afraid to be on your own, stop beating yourself up. It’s completely normal to be afraid.
If you find that you are becoming more anxious about living alone I encourage you to seek a support group for widows and/or to seek counseling to help you through this. It’s perfectly normal to go through these feelings but they can get out of control and affect your health.
So, be kind to yourself and take care of yourself. You deserve it.
Is Living Alone Dangerous For Seniors?
There are several reasons why living alone can be downright dangerous for older adults. Some may seem obvious but others you may not have thought about.
- Health issues can leave seniors needing help and if they don’t have the funds to pay for that help or family to perform that help – then the risks of falling and injuring themselves increases.
- Cognitive issues can also lead to seniors improperly using prescription medications (amongst other things) which of course could lead to a plethora of problems.
- Safety issues such as forgetting to lock the doors and windows, leaving the keys in the car while it’s running in the garage is another issues, leaving the oven or stove on too long, etc.
All of these issues can put someone living alone at higher risk of injury or death.
I’m big fan of a safety-first mentality, so let’s take a look at what you can do to make your home feel safe.
Safety Tips For Elderly Living Alone
I can’t promise to help alleviate all of your fears about living alone, but I think I can do an excellent job informing you how to make things feel a heck of a lot safer. Living alone as a female, in particular, can have some more challenges, but that doesn’t mean you need to live in fear.
Here is a shortlist of some simple things you can do to make your apartment or house safer:
Medical Alert System
I can’t possibly stress enough how important it is for anyone living alone to have some type of alert system. For seniors, that includes a medical alert system. These gadgets are a great way to be safe when you’re alone.
Check out the many different types that we recommend. Some don’t even look like an alert device!
Sign Up For The Vial Of Life Program
The Vial of Life program is a free service that provides a way for people to store important medical information in a readily accessible place. The program is designed to help first responders provide the best possible care in an emergency situation.
By having all of your vital information stored in one place, first responders can quickly and easily find the information they need to give you the best possible care. The program is open to anyone, and all you need to do is fill out a form with your important medical information.
Once you have completed the form, you can keep it in your home in a safe place, such as a drawer or cabinet. You can also keep it in your car or carry it with you in a purse or wallet. In the event of an emergency, simply call 911 and give them your information.
The program is free of charge and there is no obligation to participate.
Make The House Senior Friendly
There are so many different things that you can do to make your house more senior friendly which can in turn help to reduce the risk of a fall and injury. Here’s a list of just a few ways…
- Declutter your home to make the areas you live in free and clear
- Fall proof the house by installing grab bars, a walk in tub (or tub lift), shower friendly accessories, non slip floors and mats and making sure that every area of the home is well lit.
- Invest in senior friendly furniture like a lift chair, bolting free standing shelves to the wall, adding can lights and night lights throughout. You can read more on this topic here.
- Don’t forget about the outdoors. Install non slip stair treads, create a smooth walkway in your backyard and make sure to have enough outdoor lighting.
- Cognitive impairment issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s can make it difficult and sometimes just impossible to live alone. Recognizing these disabilities can help to keep a senior loved one safe.
Lock Your Doors
Lock your doors, lock your doors, lock your doors! This is one of the easiest ways that you can increase the security of your home.
If you’ve moved from a smaller town to a big city, you may have never locked your doors while you were at home. You might have even gone to bed without locking your doors.
Well, it’s time to develop a new habit. Check and double-check your locks, and make sure they are always locked whether you home or not.
It seems simple, but that little switch on your door can make a big difference in how easily an intruder can enter your home. If your lock seems flimsy, you can easily install secondary locks, and you may be able to have your landlord install some if you ask.
Be sure to lock your windows and get locks for your sliding doors, too.
Keep In Touch With Others Daily
It’s important to have a contact or two whom you reach out to on a regular schedule. This let’s them know that you are okay and vice versa. You can do this with phone calls or text messages.
For example, you can make it a point to contact someone every day in the morning. Let them know that if they haven’t heard from you by a certain time, that they should check on you. I would then recommend to repeat that again during the day and then perhaps in the evening.
You could assign a certain time of day to a different person. And of course, this could also help both of you to be alerted if anything was wrong.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, senior isolation has increased dramatically so it’s more important now than ever to simply reach out!
Now more than ever, it’s vital for friends, family members, and acquaintances to reach out to seniors. Even 15 minutes of interaction a day in person or virtual can mitigate the effects of loneliness on seniors, according to the Administration on Aging (AoA)A Place For Mom
Social interaction is a human need (even for introverts) so it’s extremely important to make that happen. Like any relationship – it requires work so pick up the phone and talk to your friends and family, set up Zoom meetings, visit if it’s safe to do so.
The truth is, as much as we value our freedom, humans are highly social, and even the most introverted of us need some form of human interaction. And while we might like to think of ourselves as self-reliant, we need others for our physical, emotional and psychological well-being.Lifecareservices-seniorliving.com
Install A Home Security System
My mother’s idea of a home security system was to hang some bells on the door handle of the front door. I think most seniors can do better.
A home security system (especially one with a camera) is one of the best protections against burglaries. It not only deters intruders but also alerts anyone who hears it to get help and call 911 immediately.
Over two million homes are robbed each year in America, and 65% of break-ins occur between 6am – 6pm when many people aren’t home.
Burglars will go for an easier target and that usually means a house that does not have a security system or an outdoor security camera.
Another tip is to…
…install a lockbox containing your house key on the frame of your front door. Give the combination to the lockbox to your 911 office.nwfdailynews.com
Get A Dog
I don’t recommend a pet for every older adult, it depends if they are able to care for it and if they have a plan as to who can take in their dog if they became disabled or pass away.
But, having said, that, a dog can help living alone feel less lonely and it can also help you feel a lot safer in your home. Most burglars are opportunistic and are always on the lookout for the easiest target. So make your place not worth it.
Dogs are super sensitive to any strangeness in the air. They will hear someone fiddling with your backdoor long before you do – in most cases, even if they were asleep.
Even the tiny, adorable Yorkshire Terrier is considered one of the better breeds for deterring intruders. They may be small, but don’t tell them that! These dogs love to bark, and they will throw their lives on the line to protect their home and their human. Pretty good for a 6-pound fluff ball!
To find out which breed is best for you, read our article, Best Dogs For Seniors To Adopt.
Keep Old Dirty Boots By The Front Door
One of my favorite tips is low-cost and easy to pull off. See if this might work for you.
If you can get a large pair of men’s used work boots from Goodwill, a thrift store or a garage sale, you can set up a simple deception. Just place these old, dirty boots by your front door, and you’re done. Easy, huh?
Here’s the rationale…if a possible intruder starts out thinking that your house looks like an easy target, they will likely think twice when they see the work boots by the front door. To them, that’s a sign that a large man must be inside. Intruders hate large men just as much as they hate dogs.
By making a criminal think that your house will give them trouble, they are likely to move on – simple as that. These people prey on the vulnerable and the unaware, which means your best defense is preparation. So, a trip to the thrift store for a beat-up pair of boots could be a simple way to keep you out of harm’s way.
Weaponize Your Home
What I mean by this is to have one or two items in every room of your house that you can use as a weapon. You can use household items as weapons – things like a meat mallet, a hammer, a fire extinguisher, a baseball bat, etc.
Or, you can purchase items like pepper spray, stun guns, etc.
The idea is to make sure that you can get to a weapon, no matter what room you are in just in case.
Living alone doesn’t have to be a struggle, and it doesn’t need to be scary for older women and men. Of course, if you are dealing with dementia patients or someone with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s extremely important to speak with your physician or at least social workers to help you assess if it’s safe for that person to live alone.
If funds are available, home care may be an option for these types of situations.
You should be able to enjoy years of peace and quiet all by yourself, as long as you:
- Take your proper safety precautions
- Get to know the people around you
- Maybe get a dog or two
I do hope that these tips will help you if you choose to live alone as you grow older.