Living solo: Why are so many of our elderly living a solitary existence?

The elderly living alone is very much a problem of our age – a relatively new phenomenon caused by changing family constructs, increased wealth and other social factors such as longer life expectancy.  

In the US, it’s estimated 27% of the over-60s live solo – second only to Europe where the figure is slightly higher at 28%. Similarly, 26% live a solitary lifestyle in North America as compared to the global average of just 16%.

Also, studies have shown many other nations have even lower numbers. For example, in North African countries like Mali and Algeria, the number shrinks considerably to just 5%. There must be socio-economic factors at play in more developed nations, but why are so many of our elderly citizens living alone?

Contributing factors to solitary seniors

There are many contributing factors why the aged in developed nations are more likely to live unaccompanied as compared to their counterparts in the rest of the world. These include:

  • People tend to live longer in more developed nations
  • In countries with more advanced economies, families are often smaller, and people have kids later in life
  • Governments in developed nations tend to offer greater support to the elderly (healthcare and financial assistance), making it easier and more affordable for the aged to live alone
  • In less wealthy countries, the responsibility of care naturally falls to the extended family through a lack of state support

Nonetheless, experts suggest the problem of seniors living alone is only going to increase in the coming years as our length of life expectancy continues to extend.

Options to curb the growing trend of loneliness amongst the elderly

While many older adults are hesitant to give up the independence of their homes, there are several reasons to do so. Living alone increases the risk of accidents – and, more importantly, the dangers of not being found should an accident happen. Poverty is also often an issue through trying to live on a single pension, and elderly singles frequently suffer undernutrition, caused by not wanting to eat alone. Worsening conditions like sight or hearing problems can often go unnoticed and untreated without daily social interaction, and many single seniors also report feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression.

If you see your relative suffering any of the above problems, you must take immediate action. Various alternatives exist to stop the aged staying alone, including nursing homes and assisted living. Many people wonder what is assisted living and sometimes confuse it with full-time care – however, there are stark differences.  

In short, if your relative is still mentally and physically capable, assisted living is likely the best option to allow them to live a near-normal life – just with the possibility of support if they need it. In assisted living, residents receive personal care and become part of a community but are still able to socialize and retain a great measure of their previous independence.

Assisted living contrasts considerably with nursing home services, where the health and care of the patient is the over-riding priority – often at the sacrifice of their social interaction and independence. For most older adults, it is by far the preferred option, keeping them safe from harm while still affording a quality of life comparable to when they lived independently.

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