According to a study published in 2007 by the "British Journal of General Practice," elderly people living alone were more likely to report fair or poor health, poor vision, difficulties in basic activities of daily living, worse memory and mood, lower physical activity, poorer nutrition, worsening function, social isolation, hazardous alcohol use and multiple falls in the previous 12 months. They are also more likely to suffer from depression.
Loneliness and Depression
Elderly adults living alone face life changes, stress, loneliness and isolation that put them at risk for depression. Diminishing health, loss of driving privileges, substance abuse problems and inadequate social support also contribute to the likelihood of developing depression.
Not all elderly people who live alone are at risk. Seniors who are healthy and motivated can take advantage of social networks and activities that get them out of the house and focused on interesting and enjoyable pastimes.
Low Quality Diet
According to the Nutrition Screening Initiative, there is a correlation between living alone and low-quality diets. Older men are at greater risk from lack of experience with planning, shopping and preparing meals. Older women feel less motivated to prepare meals when there is no one to share them with. Depression, fatigue and mobility issues can also contribute to nutritional deficiencies.
Falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths among people over 75, according to the National Safety Council. According to researcher Thurmon Lockhart, half of those over 75 will die or be forced to enter institutional care as a result of falls.
Advocates urge that elderly people living alone be educated about preventive measures and what to do if they fall and cannot get up. The risk of permanent disability or death is significantly higher for people who are unable to get help for hours after a fall.
Forgetfulness and memory loss can dramatically affect the safety and well-being of an elderly person living alone. He can forget to turn off the stove, take medications, take double doses of medications, and even forget to eat a meal.
Elderly people on their own are often targets for scam artists. With no oversight on their finances, an older consumer is vulnerable to anyone promising improvements to her health, home repair or investment income. Scam artists try to develop relationships with lonely elders and prey on their need for conversation.
Lack of Resources
According to a policy brief published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, nearly half a million elders living alone in California in 2007 could not make ends meet --- lacking sufficient income to pay for a minimum level of housing, food, health care, transportation and other basic expenses.
Without probing for information by researchers, communities and family members, lack of resources will continue to be a significant disadvantage for elders living alone.