Staying At Home May Create Isolation, Not Independence For Seniors With Dementia


Here in the United States, we value our independence and autonomy. This strongly held value explains why so many older adults prefer to stay in their homes at all costs instead of moving into an assisted living facility or memory care facility. It also explains why so many family members are reluctant to suggest to Mom or Dad that it’s time to move even when it might be the best option. The truth, however, is that staying at home may actually lead to much greater isolation for a senior, especially when dementia and Alzheimer’s is added into the mix.

The Home May Become a Trap for Seniors with Dementia

What we would consider small obstacles in a typical home can become large challenges for seniors with mobility issues or dementia. For example, porch steps can become perilous for the senior who is no longer mobile or who has balance challenges (which can be exacerbated by certain medications). If a senior with dementia has wandered in the past, family members may be reluctant to bring them out of the house on a regular basis. In this way, a senior may actually become increasingly isolated in their own home.

In a study published this month in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that nearly 6 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are classified as homebound, meaning they rarely or never leave their home. The study’s lead author, Katherine Ornstein, an epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, estimated that 80% of homebound seniors suffer from dementia.

As much as family members want to help their loved one, oftentimes they simply don’t have the time to ensure that Mom or Dad are active each day. As a result, many seniors begin to feel trapped at home. Boredom may lead to depression. Researchers in the JAMA paper found that 60 percent of fully and semi-homebound seniors suffered from depression.

Though researchers aren’t yet sure if being homebound causes depression (correlation doesn’t equal causation), it makes sense that seniors who are able to participate in more activities and feel like they have more independence are more likely to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Can Care Facilities Provide Seniors with More Independence?

Interestingly, the key to improved independence for seniors might be a move to a care facility. This is especially true for seniors who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Moving them to a memory care facility will place them in a caring and supportive environment that has been optimized for their needs. For instance, here at Sunshine Care, our facilities were designed by an internationally known gerontologist to help support movement and comfort. Our 32-acre campus includes safe walking paths and beautiful gardens so that our residents can spend time outdoors in a secure environment. Additionally, our staff provides a variety of activities for our residents, including fieldtrips, so our residents always have new adventures to experience.

Care facilities also allow residents to build strong and deep friendships with each other, something your loved one may not even know they are missing. When leaving a home becomes very difficult, a senior may lose their ties to the outside world. Relationships are the flavor of life, and losing them is a form of losing independence.

So, with this information in mind, consider your loved one’s current situation. If they are living at home (or perhaps in your home), are they still able to leave the home easily and comfortably, or are they trapped within their own walls? If your loved one is very inactive, then it might be time to suggest a care facility or a memory care facility. You may be very surprised at just how beautiful, clean, and comfortable many care facilities are these days.

If you live in the San Diego area, we invite you to take a tour of our Sunshine Care Campus or to stop by our monthly support group for family members of those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Categories: Memory Care

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