Care Guide for Older Adults Living Alone
Aging Matters

Research headed up by Dr. Maria Carney, geriatrician, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Northwell Health, Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in NY found that people aging alone are a vulnerable population and susceptible to risks.

Carney's research focuses on the adults aging alone with multiple chronic diseases. They live far from family or friends and clinicians have a difficult time identifying them. This segment struggles with the growing difficulties and the details involved in managing the care.

Physicians may not recognize or know how to address the needs the patients have in managing their health. It's the reason that Carney and other scientists have resurrected the term elder orphan to describe individuals living alone with little to no support system. The research scientists estimate the number of adults 65 years and older runs close to 22%.

Carney offers practical approaches to identify and develop care plans that are consistent with each person's health care goals and she hopes to encourage professionals to screen older patients to prevent them from escaping the care they need. If you are alone, consider these steps.

Identify your medical issues and discuss with your physician:

  • Have you fallen in the past 6 months?
  • Do you take 5 or more medications?
  • Have you been hospitalized in the past 3 months?
  • Do you have 3 or more chronic illnesses?

Identify cognitive and functional abilities. Do you have trouble with any of the following, and if you do, discuss with the medical staff.

  • Do you need help with bathing, dressing, shopping, and paying bills?
  • Do you feel sad?
  • Are you lonely?

Make a detailed report about your social support and identify the family or friends who will help if you need care. The list could include out-of-town family, friends, neighbors, and significant others. Identify all resources and benefits available. If you need help finding resources, call the local Department of Aging or a social worker can assist gathering information. The list should include:

  • Who could help you in a crisis?
  • Do you have a long-term care policy?
  • Are you a veteran in the military?

Create a care and treatment plan with the medical staff.

Take advantage of delivery services for medications and food. Utilize home care if you need help with activities of daily living.

Make safety and fall prevention a priority. Tell your doctor if:

  • You have fallen.
  • You have trouble driving. Let the medical staff know if you experienced accidents or if you've gotten lost while driving.

List care goals and advance directives. Select a health-care proxy and create a living will, and even funeral and burial arrangement wishes.

  • Do you have a health-care proxy or durable power of attorney for healthcare?
  • Do you have a living will?
  • Do you have a will for your belongings, property? Who has helped you with these?
  • Have you discussed future treatment, hospitalization, burial wishes, or arrangements with anyone or made future plans?

Carol Marak, aging advocate, columnist, speaker and editor at She earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from USC Davis School of Gerontology.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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