September is National Healthy Aging Month. Whether you are in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, or older, there are many questions you may have pertaining to your everyday health. Today, Dr. Michael Merrill concludes our month-long Q&A series discussing options if you think a loved one can’t live alone any more.
Michael Merrill, MD, United Memorial Medical Center
Q: My family says I shouldn’t be living alone, what are my options?
A: Generally when a family says someone shouldn’t be living alone, it’s due to safety, and usually the main safety concern is falling. Falls can kill an elderly person. Anyway, if you fall at 3 a.m., break your hip, can’t reach a phone, and no one finds you until that afternoon, that’s 12 hours lying on the floor. Believe me, you don’t want to do that. Even if you’re tough and don’t suffer much from it, you’ll end up with muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis). To avoid this situation, the answer is to wear around a Life Alert or similar device that can call for help by pushing a button. They are not exactly fashion statements, but they keep you safe.
Another problem with living alone is social isolation itself. It’s not good for you. This also may be what your family is worried about. I always ask my patients if they ever spend a whole day by themselves, without seeing any other people face to face. If this happens for even one day, it’s a problem. Social isolation causes anxiety and depression, and there is some data that it is as bad for you as smoking. So if you wouldn’t smoke because it’s bad for you, don’t be isolated either.
An obvious solution to living alone and social isolation is to have someone move in with you. This might be attractive to a young student who has trouble paying rent. (Obviously make sure you choose someone who you trust, or who has good references, because there is a potential for abuse.) You can also move in with relatives or friends, but that means leaving your home, and many elderly are very attached to their homes.
Other options are retirement communities and assisted living. These can get expensive, but if you can afford them, they can be a great way to be happier in your later years. A social worker can help you sort through your options.
People need to be with people.
Rochester Regional is committed to helping every patient remain healthy, active and independent. Rochester Regional offers a range of senior care programs and services to our aging community, including independent living facilities, adult day care programs and skilled nursing homes. For more information, visit https://www.rochesterregional.org/services/seniors/.