During the holidays, we enter a time of travel. People get in cars or planes, often to see relatives and loved ones they perhaps haven’t seen since last year. But while much of that travel is physical, for families with older loved ones who might be entering the early stages of dementia, that travel is also mental: You enter a world in which the person you know is slightly different.
Regardless of whether you see those changes in the sudden shock of a visit after months away, or slowly over daily visits, you will start to ask questions, including how to ensure that your loved one is comfortable, safe, and well cared for.
These questions arise because there is no avoiding that it becomes increasingly difficult and dangerous for an older adult to live alone with dementia. If you wish for your loved one to age in place, it will become necessary to increase the amount of time spent with caregivers—professionals and family.
Understanding the dangers of the elderly living alone with dementia and how to combat them is the first step to ensuring your loved one’s safety and care while allowing them to age in place.
How Aging at Home Can Benefit Adults with Dementia
For years, it was assumed that the early onset of dementia signified the end of independence. Older adults were rushed to a nursing home to live out their dying years. On the surface, this made a cold sort of sense. Most of us aren’t prepared to handle the rigors of dementia, and someone suffering from it can pose a clear danger to themselves or others.
But there are reasons why aging in place with dementia can be a good idea. For starters, the cost can be comparable, and sometimes even lower, than sending someone to a care facility. But (perhaps) more importantly, you avoid the traumatizing burden of breaking someone’s routine right when their faculties are beginning to slip.
It’s been shown that maintaining a sense of place and avoiding the jarring impact of moving to a new home with new people and new routines can help a person keep their sense of self. That’s very intuitive, but it is only recently that this common sense has been embraced.
Of course, there are dangers to be aware of if an aging loved one is living at home with dementia, and it’s important for caregivers and family members to know how to deal with them.
Signs of Dementia In An Older Adult and the Dangers Associated with Them
By paying attention to the subtle signs of dementia when visiting a loved one’s home, you can get an idea of the dangers associated with them.
Some of the signs of dementia include:
- Misplaced items. Are there lightbulbs in the fridge? Are clothes being folded and then stacked in the living room? Sure, maybe it is a change of pace, but odd little changes are a sign of a mind that has trouble focusing and following through on tasks.
- Forgetfulness. We all have trouble remembering things, but persistent forgetfulness about short and long-term events is a worrying sign.
- Confusion. Are you having to explain several times the plan for an outing or event and find that your aging loved one can’t follow the thread? For example, you’re going out lunch, you’re leaving at 11:30, taking Mary’s car, etc. When the mind slowly starts to fog, small details go away, and the result is overall confusion.
- Lack of cleanliness. No one should have to have an immaculate house at all times, but signs of damage, neglect, and general unkemptness can be a sign of someone who forgets to do basic chores.
- Worsening person hygiene. The same as with the home, only for the person. This is an even more serious sign, as personal hygiene is, for most people, a routine.
The dangers of the elderly living alone with dementia are manifest. Bad hygiene can lead to disease. An unkempt house can increase the risk of falls and accidents. The aging adult may forget to clean the lint traps in the dryer or to turn off the oven, increasing the risk of a fire. A person might forget to eat or to take their medicine. They might forget to take care of themselves altogether.
So what to do when you notice this? How do you overcome these dangers? You get information, and you take action.
Combating the Dangers of the Elderly Living Alone with Dementia
The first thing to do is to take full stock of the situation, as accurately as possible. The first step may be to have a geriatric care assessment done to ascertain the level of help you will need to take care of your older loved one.
Because make no mistake: You will need help. If you have decided that you and your support network can keep your loved one at home for any period of time, there will be almost daily challenges to combat. Tasks that must be done to overcome the dangers of the elderly living alone with dementia include:
- Keeping up with housework and chores.
- Maintaining a neat house without physical obstacles.
- Making sure that groceries, toiletries, and other daily needs are provided.
- Setting a routine that can be followed.
- Working on memory exercises to strengthen the mind.
- Searching for ways to communicate compassionately with someone who may be increasingly scared and confused.
- Ensuring that all medications are taken correctly.
- Finding a professional caregiver.
The last item may ultimately be the most important. Very few families can afford a full-time, live-in caregiver. Very few families can afford to have a family member serve as a full-time caregiver, either due to finances, emotional burden, or lack of training (usually a combination of the three).
That’s why, for many families, the best solution is hiring an in-home caregiver (or caregivers) who can visit an aging loved one’s home daily to ensure the sure the place is neat, your loved one is fed and looking after themselves, and to provide company, stimulus, and conversation. They can also check to ensure that there wasn’t a fall or another accident. These are things that make it possible for your loved one to continue to age at home with dementia.
By understanding the signs of dementia and the dangers of the elderly living alone with this disease, you can be ready to make the best care decisions for your aging loved one. You can help them be comfortable, strong, and independent for as long as possible.
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia continue to age at home for as long as possible by providing the necessary resources to the adult, their family, and their caregivers. Contact us today to learn more.