Home Sweet Home: that’s where most of us want to be. And, any stage in our lives, our ability to find and pay for suitable housing is, to a large extent, an essential key to our well-being and quality of life. Simply put… out housing choices in mid to later life make a big difference in not only out quality of life but in our ongoing safety, our independence, our financial situation, our happiness and our ability to stay in touch with friends and family. It’s worth noting to begin that much of our traditional housing inventory was not designed to accommodate many of the needs as we age and for many of us we’ll have to face the fact that the time has come to leave our beloved homes. The decision to move comes for all sorts of reasons; to save money, prevent future incidents, downsize, reduce maintenance issues and /or to prevent isolation.
In this chapter we look at some of the facts, as well as some of the impacts, options, and ways our relationships and medical needs have on where we live. We’ll also look at an array of new and existing options along with some trends.
When is it time to step in?
We’re going to start off, however, with some hints for those who are somehow concerned about housing choices for others in their lives and provide some clues for when your intervention might be needed. Be aware that the threat of having to move is a scary one and this may well be a fragile period in your family member’s life. Something may have already happened so you’re worried about their safety or ability to cope. You may be noticing that their behaviours are inconsistent or hard to read. Know that your parents are trying to hide things so that you aren’t worried. Most people will be secretive to try to maintain their independence, privacy and, of course, to avoid the “dreaded move” at all costs. Here’s some ideas for family caregivers:
• Be Diligent: Keep their eye out for one or more changes that may signal that all is not well:
• Activity Levels: Suddenly mum is a glass half-empty gal, focusing on the negative. You notice that she is no longer pursuing hobbies or social interest that once provided her with pleasure.
• Personal Grooming: Few things raise the spirit like newly coifed hair, a trimmed beard or a freshly laundered shirt. However, when people are depressed, personal hygiene and grooming are often the first daily activities to fall by the wayside.
• Bill Paying: If your parent is recently widowed and is having difficulty with the bills, they may just need a helping hand until they can master these new skills. On the other hand, if your parent was a good cook or housekeeper or very conscientious about paying the bills and you see a marked change in these habits, then there is reason for concern.
• Taxes and other Financial Matters: Whether the person you care for owns or rents their home, or has other assets financial matters can be daunting. Be sure to get expert’s advice from a professional and keep track of paperwork if you can. This stage in a person’s life often makes them vulnerable and at risk for abuse.
• Health Watch: Many symptoms of a decline in health can be attributed to medical conditions that can be treated. Medical intervention may be required if your loved one shows a marked loss of appetite a change in sleeping patterns, loss of hearing or incontinence, or is becoming accident prone.
• Medication Management: Is your parent using medication inappropriately? Perhaps they have so many drugs now that they can’t remember which does what. While a good medication regimen has positive effects, there are unfortunate and sometimes deadly results of improperly taken medications.
• Confusion: Your parent may have become confused, suspicious or fearful. If this has not been part of their personality in the past, or their fears seem exaggerated, this is a sign there is a problem.
• Forgetfulness: Dad can’t remember the names of longstanding friends or family or goes to a familiar place and can’t get home.
• Fear: At times older adults are afraid of cultural stigma or ageist attitudes which prevent people from accessing community services/programs or being socially active in their community
It’s a matter of choice
More women than men live on their own and more of them are caregivers for a spouse or loved one. A third of seniors live in collective housing, a senior’s apartment, retirement residence or a nursing home. But many of the others choose to live independently in the community in all manner of situations.
Sometimes it’s a couple living together who are happily trying to stay together in their family home. At other times, its an elder who is hoarding, a loved one who begins to get too frail physically or mentally but prefer to stay alone or an individual who has chosen to rescue one too many cats…
Here are some things to watch for as you decide whether you need to get involved:
- Isolation: A study by McMaster University suggested that loneliness and isolation each have inherent health risks that could have an impact that is as serious as obesity, smoking or alcoholism.
- Inside and alone: Someone who is by themselves all day, doesn’t go out of the house all day and has no close relatives, visitors or contact with neighbours. They also don’t go to any community activities.
- No way to ask for help: The individual is without a telephone or doesn’t use it. And the nearest neighbour is well out of earshot
- Is losing weight: Many seniors don’t like to shop and cook for themselves. Some don’t want to or haven’t got money to spend money on fresh food.
- Messy house: The home is no longer fit or safe to live in because of the mess, mould, bugs, hoarding, multiple pets or lack of repair
- Health care advice: Do they have or are they in touch with their family doctor or visiting nurses. Are they healthy or is there something that needs attending to?
- Could be depressed: The person is sad and says they have no one to help them, and no one to talk to. They feel they don’t see enough of friends and relatives. Plus, there are not any friends nearby anymore
- Seems to be fearful: Has no confidence or is afraid of going out. Is or has been abused financially, physically or mentally by a family member, friend or stranger.
- Alone at festivals: Spent the previous Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays and family holidays without companionship and care
The impact of loneliness and isolation on health
According to experts the impact of being on their own actually makes people more apt to become seriously ill with everything form chronic lung disease and arthritis, to impaired mobility as well as overconsumption of alcohol. Loneliness can also cause binge or overeating, great likelihood of smoking as a way to cope and a reluctance to get any exercise. This lack of exercise can lead to increased rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other issues.
Multiple studies have found that loneliness can affect heart health in significant ways. Researchers in Sweden found that coronary bypass patients who described themselves as lonely were 2.6 times more likely to die within 30 days after surgery than non-lonely patients. Additionally, even 5 years after the surgery, the risk of death for lonely patients was still 1.8 times higher.
Loneliness and isolation can have major effects on mental health as well. A Dutch study found that seniors who suffer from loneliness have a 64% higher risk of dementia. Depression is also very common in lonely seniors. Among seniors who live in residential care facilities, the rate of depression has been shown to be as high as 44%. This is especially relevant, as seniors who live in these facilities are estimated to have much higher rates of loneliness than seniors who continue living in their communities.