Isolation and Elder Health Risks, pt. 2
Living on your own these days? Welcome to an ever-growing club. Divorce, and death of a spouse, have contributed to many more seniors living alone than ever before.
Unfortunately, living alone can have a negative impact on your health. Studies show people with diabetes don’t manage their disease as well when they live alone, and those with heart disease are more likely to miss the signs of a heart attack. In fact, one study found that people who live alone double their risk of serious heart disease. If you suffer a stroke alone, you’re less likely to act fast and get the anti-clotting treatment that’s urgently needed to prevent long-term consequences. All of these situations contribute to the negative health toll of living alone.
But, does this compromise elder safety and security?
Most of the health issues associated with living alone can be overcome with increased watchfulness, safety precautions, and a plan for what to do when an emergency arises. (However, loneliness and depression are probably the biggest issues facing those who live alone.)
There are big changes in metabolism in the elderly. But there are small changes, too, that pose health risks. One is a tendency to become dehydrated more easily. The reasons our elderly parents become dehydrated more easily are twofold — the body isn’t as good at storing water, and sense of thirst becomes less acute. Other conditions, such as diabetes, can compound the problem, and many medications are dehydrating as well. Unfortunately, dehydration can be deadly.
So we need to drink more fluids as we age, but studies show we drink less. Often the problem is that drinking tends to be a social activity — it’s easier to remember to have a glass of water or iced tea when there’s someone around to do it with, or at least someone who reminds us. To combat this problem, we all have to learn to make drinking water a regular habit, whether or not someone’s there to remind us.
Risk: Alcohol and Medication Abuse
The Centers for Disease Control has called alcohol and drug abuse among older adults “a hidden epidemic” and one of the “fastest-growing problems in this country.” And statistics show the problem is getting worse every year.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to become dependent on any narcotic painkiller prescribed post-surgery or to treat chronic pain. The result: 18% of older adults with chronic pain either abuse or are addicted to painkillers.
When it comes to alcohol abuse, living alone can worsen this problem, or trigger its beginning. Elders who never drank excessively before may begin overusing alcohol to combat loneliness or boredom, or simply to make themselves feel better. Several studies have found that those who live alone are much more likely to die from alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and other alcohol-related diseases.
The answer, of course, is to get help if you suspect you might be drinking too much or overusing any medication. Read up on the signs of abuse and addiction, and notice whether your drinking or drug use is having negative consequences.
It’s important to remember that there’s also a direct link between alcohol, drug use, and risk of falling. And beware: This risk is not just for those actually abusing alcohol and drugs. Even just one or two drinks can interact with another medication, contributing to a fall. Whenever you start taking a new medication, read the disclosures to see whether it interacts with alcohol. If you notice you feel woozy, dizzy, or overly sleepy after a cocktail, it may be a medication interaction that’s responsible. You need to discuss this with your doctor.
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John D. Miller is the founder/owner of Home Care Partners, LLC, a Massachusetts business providing private duty, personalized in-home assistance and companion care services to those needing help in daily activities and household functions.
Phone: (781) 378-2164