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.

Healthcare

Coronavirus Pandemic Dilemma for the Senior Living Workforce

It’s a cautionary tale that provisions in a coronavirus-related relief action by the US government could have severely curtailed the workforce in senior assisted living, independent living, memory care, and continuing care retirement communities. The bill, HR 6201, is a multi-billion dollar aid package known as Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill has recently been signed into law by the US President. Influential leaders, CEOs, and corporate Presidents in the senior care and housing industry addressed facility workforce concerns directly to the House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) before the passing of H.R.6201.

Families First Coronavirus Response Law

The Families First Coronavirus Response Law expands unemployment and Medicaid benefits, provides for free coronavirus testing, and mandates paid sick leave and childcare. Now that schools have closed throughout the country for an indefinite time, the fear is that many senior care workers will, unsurprisingly, put their family before their healthcare worker employment. A reprieve of sorts was added before the law being enacted, which states that only certain employees can qualify for paid sick leave.  Because of these loopholes, healthcare workers like first responders, and hospital and nursing home staff are ineligible for paid sick leave per the Families First Coronavirus Response Law (FFCRL) amid fears of staffing shortages among medical providers.

Healthcare worker exemption from some FFCRL benefits is a relief to the senior housing industry but by no means mitigates other workforce challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. The pervasiveness of this contagion means that healthcare workers will be exposed to, and some will fall ill with full-blown coronavirus symptoms and illness. Obviously, in these cases, the healthcare worker will be removed from the senior living facility for quarantine and recovery and to protect the facility’s residents and staff. One coronavirus confirmed healthcare worker begins a domino effect within a facility. Regular operations become short-staffed, and operators face the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols that co-workers must also face quarantine.

How Healthcare Workers are Responding to COVID-19 Pandemic

Beyond coronavirus exposure, symptoms, and the diagnosed virus itself, there is the problem of how healthcare workers respond in a pandemic. The non-stop news and social media coverage of the coronavirus has put many Americans on edge, including health care workers. In a crisis, some people respond logically and calmly, while others may become fearful of their own circumstances and respond emotionally. Most healthcare workers would put their own family’s health needs and care before any employment, and in a free society, there is nothing to compel them to stay in a job if they choose to tend first to their own family.

If your loved one is in a senior living facility, what can you do to mitigate the negative consequences of workforce disruption due to the coronavirus? In the short term, if you are able and your senior is well enough, you can put them under your care. Beyond family care, unless you have the resources for private pay at any cost, you, like the rest of us, are in the system and have to wait out the virus and its effects. There is no guarantee moving forward how the coronavirus will play out in senior living communities, America, and around the world.

One of the few things you do have control over is to assure your loved one has proper legal documents for end of life decisions. Take the time to review them to ensure they are in order. A do not resuscitate order (DNR), durable medical power of attorney, and end of life wishes should be on file with your loved ones living facility and the local hospital. Additional legal copies of these documents should remain in your car or on your person in the event a facility is unable to locate the paperwork. Preparing for the worst-case scenario is a harsh reality; however, it could make the difference between chaotic suffering and a peaceful passing.

We can help draft appropriate documents for you and your loved ones. Learn more about your options and contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.