Is It Still Safe For Your Parents To Live Alone?


We constantly hear about the virtues of aging in place and senior independence. But at some point it's no longer safe, appropriate or realistic for seniors to live on their own. That's when moving to a managed care setting can provide your mother or father increased security, comfort, social interaction and convenience - even happiness.

So how do you know it's no longer safe for your parents to live on their own? If your parents are experiencing any of the following, you should consider alternative living arrangements that solve the issue at hand:

1. Difficulty with activities of daily living like toileting, cooking, bathing, dressing, household chores and medication management: As your parents age, their vision, memory or mobility may make it more difficult to carry on every day functions required to live alone. Various levels of managed care facilities can help your parents with their daily needs, providing significant relief, comfort and convenience for your mother or father.

Warning Signs:

  • Soiled clothing
  • Smell of urine or feces
  • Body odor
  • Greasy or messy hair
  • Unclean clothes
  • Wearing the same clothing repeatedly
  • Unkempt home
  • Empty fridge
  • Loss of weight
  • Unfilled prescriptions
  • Too many or too few pills taken, relative to amount prescribed

While moving into a managed care facility is certainly an option, you may also want to try other cost effective measures beforehand. These might include a laundry service, prepared meal delivery, automated medication dispensers, raised toilet seats, walk-in bath tubs, shower seats, cleaning service, etc...

2. Feel lonely or are increasingly isolated: Loneliness and isolation are significant issues that can result in depression and poor physical health. Isolation can become more pronounced with lack of transportation options and poor mobility. If they are otherwise healthy, there are retirement communities that might provide the friendships, activities and access to resources that will increase their happiness and integrate them back into a community.

Warning Signs:

  • Look sad
  • Sleep more than usual
  • Change in mood for the worse
  • Don't go out
  • Miss appointments
  • Irritable or anxious

There are alternatives to a retirement community you might want to try beforehand. If proximity allows, make a concerted effort to include your mother or father in weekly family events. Call every day. Bring them to your kids sporting events. Enroll them in senior programs like cards, bingo, art class, dance. Get them involved at the local library book club or at Tai Chi class at the local YMCA. See if there is senior transportation in your area.

3. Have mobility issues: If it's difficult for your parents to navigate their way in and around their own home, it may no longer make sense for them to stay in it and in fact may be a danger to themselves. Moving to a facility designed for people with mobility issues can make life not only safer, but dramatically easier and more enjoyable.

Warning Signs:

  • Fall frequently
  • Have difficulty with stairs
  • Stay in bed or seated most of the day
  • Have difficulties with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, cooking, toileting)

Before incurring the expense of a managed care facility, you may also want to explore technologies that can assist those living alone with mobility issues. These might include a stair lift, walk-in tub, shower chair, scooter, walkers, grab bars, motion sensored faucets, motion sensored lights, voice automated personal assistants, smart home technology, medical alert systems with fall detection, etc... You may also want to take advantage of home delivery services from the grocery store, the pharmacy and Amazon, alleviating the need to go to the store or carry bags.

4. Have a chronic health condition requiring constant care: If your parents have a chronic health condition that requires a significant amount of daily care, or if they require specialized medical care, they may find it easier to find it in a facility with skilled professionals, whether it be nurses, nurses assistants, occupational therapists, or doctors, than getting it at home.

Warning Signs:

  • Daily, if not, 24 hour care is required
  • Challenging to find requisite expertise for in-home care
  • Challenging to find requisite equipment for in-home care

Depending on the chronic condition and the care required, you might want to explore if there are remote monitoring technologies that, combined with some in-home care, could allow for your parents to remain in their home. Remote patient monitoring technologies have been especially helpful to those with COPD, Diabetes and congestive heart failure.

5. Have memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer's: If your mother or father has memory loss, at some stage they may become a danger to themselves and to those around them.

Warning Signs:

  • Wander
  • Get lost, disoriented
  • Leave exterior doors open
  • Leave stove on
  • Leave water on
  • Dress inappropriately
  • Have difficulty managing medications
  • Forget to eat
  • Unpaid bills
  • Forgetting appointments

At some early stages of dementia, it is possible you can help your mother or father live on their own effectively. Smart home technology can give you control over your parent's front door, lights, heat and music. You can install motion sensored water taps and an automatic stove shut-off valve. You can provide your parents with automated medication reminders. You can also have your parents wear a GPS tracking watch or necklace.

Regardless, If you feel like your mother or father is experiencing cognitive decline, you should get them assessed by a gerontologist or memory care specialist.