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The Risk of Living Alone

A solitary lifestyle in old age puts 1 in 4 Americans at risk, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) set out to learn more about the living conditions of those with cognitive impairments, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

In their research they found that those with cognitive impairment who lived with a spouse, family member, friend, or had some sort of help in the home, had a lower risk than those living alone.

Researchers posed the question, “How do health care and social services professionals perceive the role of living arrangements when they care for patients with cognitive impairment?”

What researchers found, was that living arrangements were a quite significant part of care and living longer healthier lives.

Study authors say the 25% of US citizens living with mild cognitive impairments are more at risk of mixing up their crucial medications, unsafe driving, and forgetting doctor appointments.

Dr. Elena Portacolone, of the UCSF Institute for Health and Aging and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, said, “For these patients, living alone is a social determinant of health with an impact as profound as poverty, racism and low education.”

She continues, “Most patients need to pay out-of-pocket and since cognitive impairment can last for decades, it is unsustainable for most people. Aides that are available via Medicaid are very poorly paid and usually receive limited training in caring for older adults with cognitive impairment.”

This months-long research took place across the states of Michigan, California, and Texas, where 76 clinicians, social workers, and other professionals working with patients who identified as having cognitive impairments were interviewed.

The study found that patients who live alone lack an advocate who can speak on their behalf or support them to follow the recommendations made by their doctors.

These patients often have difficulty providing full medical histories, making it more difficult for their particular medical complications to be addressed by their physicians.

One psychiatrist interviewed even said that discharging certain patients is “like sending a kid out to play on the freeway.”

The study noted that concern would rise significantly if these patients also lived in an under-served or high crime neighborhood. If they are alone, who is there to make sure they even make it home safely?

The researchers also found that some of the patients lacked current emergency contacts, did not list a friend, or close family member they could rely on to help keep their lives in order.

While research continues on medications to help curb effects of cognitive impairment, ultimately, the study finds what common sense also dictates, that people need companionship and a bit of help in the home.

Whether that is a close personal friend, spouse, family member, or a home healthcare worker, older individuals do need someone there to help with day-to-day living.

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