By LISA M. PETSCHE
When the loved one they have been living with passes away, many older adults face the challenge of learning to live alone—often for the first time.
If there was a division of labor with their partner, they must either learn new life skills—cooking, for example—or obtain help. If their spouse was the more physically or mentally able of the pair, living independently may pose special challenges.
If you have a parent or other close relative who is new to living alone, read on for some areas of potential concern and how to help.
MEDICATION MANAAGEMENT—Request a medication review by your relative’s primary physician, to determine if all prescription medications are necessary. Ask their pharmacist about available aids for remembering to take medications.
NUTRITION—Set up a schedule to take your relative grocery shopping, arrange for a grocery delivery service, stock their freezer with heat-and-serve foods, or arrange for “meals on wheels.” If they find it hard to eat alone, look into communal dining programs, and have them over for dinner.
HOUSEHOLD MAINTENANCE—Arrange for regular housecleaning service and, if applicable, yard maintenance service. If your relative has limited income, they may qualify for a subsidized community program. Consult the local office on aging, an excellent source of information on community services.
TRANSPORTATION—If they don’t drive (or shouldn’t), provide your relative with a bus pass or taxi gift vouchers, or investigate volunteer driver programs for seniors. If necessary, find out about local accessible transportation services.
VISION—Ask your relative’s doctor for a referral to an ophthalmologist. If nothing can be done to improve their vision, get them a magnifier for reading small print and other adaptive items, such as a large keypad, programmable telephone and clock with oversized numbers.
FALLS—Perform a safety assessment of your relative’s home to identify potential hazards, and do what you can to rectify them. Visit a medical supply store, and check out the many products that might make daily activities easier and safer. Sign up your relative with a personal emergency response service, whereby they wear a lightweight, waterproof pendant or bracelet that has a button to press for crisis assistance.
FINANCES—If money management is an issue, arrange for direct deposit of pension checks and automatic bill payment from your relative’s bank account. Assist them with contacting a lawyer to assign power of attorney for property to someone they trust. If they’re experiencing financial hardship living solo, ensure they apply for all possible government and private benefits, such as survivor’s pensions and income supplements. If necessary, assist them with taking in a boarder or moving to a less costly type of housing.
If your relative has cognitive impairment and their partner was compensating, deficits may now be more pronounced or apparent for the first time. If so, arrange through their primary physician for a geriatric assessment. Research home supports, such as telephone reassurance services, therapeutic day care programs, and home health services that offer personal care, homemaking, nursing, dietary consultation, physical and occupational therapy, and social work. A live-in caregiver is another option if finances permit.
If your relative needs more help than community programs can provide and can’t afford private-pay services, options include moving them in with you or another family member and finding a residential care setting that meets their needs.
If feelings of isolation and loneliness are the main concern, your relative may wish to consider sharing accommodations with a friend, relocating to an active adult community or, if their health is frail, moving to a retirement home. MSN
Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in family life. She has personal experience with elder care and with helping widowed loved ones.