Elder Living

Living Alone in Your 50s and 60s Increases Your Risk of Dementia

Living arrangements for aging Americans are decidedly leaning towards aging in place. Nearly all older adults prefer to age in the comfort of their long time homes and familiar community surroundings. Aging in place often means living alone. Pew Research findings show that older people are more likely to live alone in the United States than in any other country worldwide. This preference of living solo, however, comes with hidden danger. Research from Science Times reports that living alone in your fifties and sixties increases the likelihood of dementia by thirty percent.

The conclusion drawn is based on a report from sciencedirect.com, a website replete with large databases of scientific, academic, and medical research. Findings indicate that social isolation is a more important risk factor for dementia than previously identified. In this age of gray divorce (also grey divorce) and social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, adults living alone in their fifties, sixties and beyond, are at greater risk than ever for cognitive decline, leading to dementia.

Understanding the Causes of Dementia Cases

The lead author of the study, Dr. Roopal Desai, says that overall increases in dementia cases worldwide can be due to loneliness, stress, and the lack of cognitive stimulation that living alone brings. Biologically, cognitive stimulation is necessary to maintain neural connections, which in turn healthily keep a brain functioning. Staying socially interactive is as important to cognitive health as staying physically and mentally active.

Strategies for Seniors Living Alone

Health care professionals in the U.S. are implementing a “social prescribing” strategy to improve the connection of a patient who lives alone to a prescribed range of services like community groups, personal training, art classes, counseling, and more. Unfortunately, in the days of COVID-19 social prescribing is limited to virtual connections between people. However, virtual social engagement is better than no social engagement at all.

Why can’t an adult, choosing to age alone, maintain their health with physical exercise, crossword puzzles, and other activities that stimulate their brains without the input of human socialization? It turns out that social isolation presents a greater risk for dementia than physical inactivity, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Brain stimulation is vastly different when a person engages in a conversation rather than in repetitive games and puzzles. Carrying on a conversation, whether in person or virtually, is far more stimulating and challenging to the brain’s regions.

Conversation with other people chemically evokes neurotransmitters and hormones, which translates into increased feelings of happiness and reduced stress through purpose, belonging, improved self-worth, and confidence. It turns out that being human is undeniably an experience at its most healthy when shared, and a mentally healthy person is prone to stay more cognitively capable.

The Importance of Human Connection to Decrease Dementia

Maintaining this human connection can be challenging, particularly if you are one of the many Americans who are opting to age in place. In the first place, aging is replete with reasons to reduce activity and become isolated when facing particular types of stressful events common to later life years. Role changes associated with spousal bereavement through death or divorce, household management, social planning, driving, and flexibility all fall prey to functional and cognitive limitations. Without the benefit of an involved family or social prescription, it is easy for an aging adult to spiral into social isolation, loneliness, and depression, all of which are causally linked to cognitive decline.

If you or your aging loved one actively chooses to live alone, it is imperative to maintain a vibrant social life. Staying cognitively healthy is associated to satisfying social engagement as well as physical activity. If you live alone, reducing the risk of developing dementia will allow you to continue living out your years as imagined, with independence and control, thanks to your continued human interactions.

If you have concerns about your current living arrangements (or those of a loved one who needs care), please reach out. We help families create comprehensive legal plans that cover care and financial concerns. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700. We’d be honored to speak with you.

Elder Living

Alternative Views on Facility Living with Alzheimer’s Patients

As the aging population rises, Alzheimer’s Disease is also on the rise for elderly moving into nursing home facilities. The National Institute of Health (NIH) Library of Medicine reports the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for approximately two-thirds of all diagnosed cases of dementia. Alzheimer’s is also one of the most expensive diseases to treat and often results in financial strain on families trying to find and pay for the best care. In the past, care in facilities often resulted in Alzheimer’s patients being separated from others. However, as you’ll read below, facilities are now exploring better ways to treat Alzheimer’s patients while living in a facility.

Medical breakthroughs that increase our understanding of how to best treat and introduce disease modification therapies for people living with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases provides future hope. However, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are already more than 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. These individuals may not live long enough to benefit from new therapy discoveries since new treatments must undergo rigorous testing and clinical trial phases. Current projections indicate that unless some of these medical breakthroughs have practical applications very soon, more than 14 million Americans will be clinically diagnosed to be living with Alzheimer’s by 2050, with many more struggling in the long-preclinical phase of the disease.

As senior living facilities become more saturated with dementia patients in all stages of progression, there is a shift underway towards non-segregated memory care living. Alzheimer’s patient reintegration into general senior living residence status is shifting dementia care into a human-centric model. It provides insights and lessons into eldercare facility living, its providers and staff, family members of residents, and all of the patients, not just memory care patients. This human-based approach is a kinder, more medically practical and appropriate, and in the long term, a more cost-effective method for facility residents who have dementia.

Before there were outcome-based clinical research findings to support the segregating of dementia patients care facilities began creating stand-alone memory care units, floors, and facilities.  Families knew their loved ones were safely locked away in a highly monitored unit, and staff could focus their training and efforts in a more specified range of care. Because this isolation model became overwhelmingly profitable for business operators, it became the de facto standard of memory care operation. Profits were trumping the human condition. At the outset, it seemed rational enough to put like-patients together, yet because everyone’s memory disease progression is unique, the concept was flawed. Living circumstances for humans is an emotional experience, and the sad outcome for assembled memory care patients was faster disease progression in their isolated, shrinking worlds. This accelerated mental decline was partially due to the lack of broader social and emotional connection with non-dementia residents. It seems integrating patients of all types and generations enriches and expands what residents can do, creating a diverse human model focusing on the positive aspects of life and personal interaction.

Some of the conditions all aging adults share, not just those living with dementia, include difficulty hearing and seeing, finding mental focus more demanding, becoming more concerned about being in large crowds, and noises that increase their stress levels. For a community of residents, no matter what the patient illness, facilities can create an atmosphere that addresses these common concerns. These shared needs include not only medical care but activities that are available in a 24-hour cycle and the encouragement of socialization in smaller, quieter circles. Interactions among residents in this calming style of environment tend to create friendships organically and provide enriching connections among patients irrespective of their illness type. The overall common conditions of aging require sameness in approach, no matter how varied the residents’ medical conditions are.

Technology that allows for digital wrist monitoring of patient location and vital signs permits ease of monitoring residents, particularly as they wander their living space.  Even the proper lighting, carpeting, and circular hallway architecture reassure residents’ feelings of safety, comfort, and familiarity, which appeals to all, regardless of diagnosis. When an entire senior living facility is dementia friendly, and all staff is trained in memory illness and care, every employee can add value to a resident’s enjoyment of life from the medical professionals to the social workers to the landscapers.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can strike fear and worry in America’s aging population because of the emotional, physical, and financial upheaval associated with it. An older person might recognize the onset of some memory problems and become terrified, thinking about Alzheimer’s and the possibility of being relocated from their home and community to a dementia unit. There is a sense of dread that you may never feel seen, heard, and loved again by other people. Interpersonal relationships and connectedness are a hallmark of the aging communities in America. AARP reports large percentages of technology use in older Americans is related to interpersonal connections like email, viewing photos of family and friends, and using social media and the internet. Even in digital spaces and experiences, elderly community residents are looking to create personal networks, connecting to the world at large. The human spirit inclines to be expansive.

Appropriate social and physical environments play a significant role in healthy aging. Compartmentalizing memory care patients into homogeneous units will increase their memory decline, isolate their human connection, and spiral the patient into an ever-shrinking world of interaction, often making them non-verbal. Alzheimer’s patients who experience higher levels of social integration respond conversely, expanding their horizons as they experience and feel the extension of human love and support. There is no one set of symptoms for Alzheimer’s patients, and all patients are on their own trajectory of the disease. Mistakenly putting them together in a one size fits all approach of care has been a disservice to their health and well being and to the future care of others who will become afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The memory care model is shifting for the better and not a moment too soon.

We help families who have a loved one with dementia. We explore possible sources to help pay for care, like Medicaid, and we make sure our client’s wishes are stated in properly drafted legal documents. If you have a loved one with dementia, give us a call and let’s work on a plan to ensure your loved one has the best care possible, and their home and savings are protected. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.