We know that growing older and living alone is hardest when residing in the suburbs. In urban areas are we have access to public transportation and potentially more people to interact with daily.

If you live close to places where people gather like coffee shops and public libraries, chances are you’ll get out of the house more often to interface with others and connect.

But in suburbia, we tend to isolate and become lonely. And when we remain alone and apart from others, the results can create havoc on our physical health, says research geriatrician, Dr. Maria Carney, author of Elder Orphans, Hiding in Plain Sight.

 
 

Living Along: The Role of Health Care Providers

However, health care providers have substantial opportunity to tend to our needs, or at least learn about them. A doctor or staff in a medical treatment center can initiate solutions that positively affect those living alone. According to Dr. Carney, it’s the local medical and care community who should be keenly aware and offer services before an older adult’s function declines.

As the number of people living and growing older alone escalates, the challenges will also. Currently, close to 19 percent of women aged 40 to 44 years have no children, as compared to about 10 percent in 1980 (U.S. Census, 2010.) The year before, in 2009, almost one-third of citizens aged 45–63 years were single, a 50 percent increase from 22% in 1980. But being a parent, partner, or spouse does not guarantee help or long-term care support.

Preparing for the Future

Furthermore, all adults, whether alone or living with someone, must prepare for our future needs. Take action now and get the legal papers together. Find a reliable and trustworthy healthcare surrogate. Live near public transport, locate affordable housing and make close friendships. But you also need to learn how the place where you live will support your stages of aging.

Using the Census data, Seniorcare.com created Senior Isolation, Ranking the 50 States. How does your state measure and compare to the rest of the country? The web page includes statements from people about what it’s like to be older and living alone. It lists several websites designed to assist with isolation.

Suggestions on How Healthcare Providers Can Put Your Needs First

The ranking tool offers the medical community a chance to see where their state stands in the number of potential people at risk for isolation and vulnerability. For example, North Dakota and Rhode Island rank 1 and 2, respectively.

This data gives the providers an opportunity to learn what patients without partners and children need and how best to care for them. Dr. Carney’s research offers a step-by-step query and guide for monitoring and screening for aging alone.

Questions include:

Do you have a spouse or significant other?

Do you have children? Are they nearby?

Do you have family members or friends that help you cope with life challenges?

Do you have someone to help with bills, financial decisions?

Other questions address health care decisions:

Do you have someone to help you make medical decisions?

Do you have a health-care proxy or any advance directives?

Who would you call if an emergency or crisis would occur?

Do you have a home health aide to help with personal care such as bathing, dressing and other activities of daily living?

Recognizing Medical and Other Considerations When Living Alone

Additional questions ask for more specifics about health care such as:

Have you fallen in the past six months?

Do you have three or more chronic illnesses?

Do you take five or more medications?

Have you been hospitalized in the past three months?

Other questions address cognitive and functional abilities:

Do you need help with bathing, dressing, shopping, and paying bills?

Do you feel sad?

Are you lonely?

Who could help you in a crisis?

Another set of questions focuses on social support Information:

Do you have a long-term care policy?

Are you a veteran in the military?

Some questions concern safety and potential for injury and making safety a priority: Do you have a gun in your home? Are you driving? Did you experience any accidents? Do you wear your seatbelt regularly? Have you gotten lost while driving?

Finally, there considerations like creating a treatment plan (Individuals without support need a treatment plan), using delivery services, and discussing the patient’s care goals.

I am an advocate for the aging alone group. All too often, we run under the radar and go unnoticed, don’t you feel it too? It’s like we’ve become invisible. Hopefully, with screening tools like this, health care practitioners will be made more aware of the segment and home in on our challenges and requirements.

Are you living alone? If so, what are your biggest challenges? Do you think that your healthcare professional is meeting all your health and well-being needs? If you are living alone, do you sometimes feel a little lonely and socially isolated? What are you doing to stay healthy and well in your 60’s? Please share in the comments.

Carol MarakCarol Marak is an Aging Advocate and Editor at Seniorcare.com. She’s an experienced family caregiver and writes about aging issues, care concerns, and the family’s role throughout the journey. Carol earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of California, Davis. Her work appears in Huffington Post and health care outlets. Follow at @Carebuzz and @SeniorCareQuest.

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