In the USA, one-third of those with dementia live alone, and one in seven of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s live alone. That’s 800,000 people with dementia on their own.
There’s an estimated 50 million with dementia worldwide, 60-70% being Alzheimer’s and it is estimated this will triple by 2050. Dementia is a progressive condition that eventually leads to the necessity of being cared for. So, it is an extremely precarious situation for those who have no care.
Most studies have shown it is not a safe situation for any senior of advanced age or with physical or mental challenges to live alone. Social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, and anxiety, plus increases their risk of developing dementia. The dangers of falls or a medical emergency while alone is a looming threat. Many are malnourished due to the inability to cook or shop because of physical or mental disabilities or no transportation. Often there’s a lack of personal hygiene and cleanliness of the home. Worse yet, the elderly alone sometimes become hoarders living in squalor and in very unsanitary conditions; this commonly happens when they have advancing dementia.
Many people with dementia independently living fight to maintain that independence and become very difficult for their families, refusing to let them help or step in. Families are powerless to do anything until their loved one has an accident or becomes incapacitated.
When the person’s capacity to reason or make decisions begins to deteriorate, what then? Many of them still drive even with advanced symptoms! What happens when they start to lose the ability to follow a process like the steps necessary to make food, bath, or find help. Then there’s the high probability they could get lost and not be found.
Once I found an elderly man on my carport looking very confused. He was dirty like he’d slept in the woods and smelled of urine but wasn’t drunk. He said he was lost and couldn’t find his house. We drove around the neighborhood looking until he suddenly yelled, “There it is, there it is,” and then he covered his face with his hands and began to sob. He had been lost for two days, sleeping in bushes with no food or water and his house was only two blocks from where I found him.
What happens to these people? As cases of dementia continue to increase in numbers and resources become overwhelmed, what are we to do?
I wish I knew.