Can My Loved One with Dementia Live Alone?

Estimates indicate that approximately one third of people with dementia and 1 in 7 of those with Alzheimer’s disease lives alone. A diagnosis of dementia does not automatically mean a person cannot safely live independently. Some people may be able to live on their own for some time after the initial diagnosis. Others may be at too much risk to continue living alone.

It is common for people living with dementia to go through a series of stages from complete independence to living with someone or needing a long-term care placement over the course of disease progression . When a person who has lived alone eventually needs to consider other options, the move to live with someone can be difficult for all those involved. Some people with dementia may try to hide or compensate for the problems they are experiencing. Others with dementia do not recognize that they have challenges or blame family members .

If you are a family member or caregiver of a person with dementia, it can be difficult to decide whether a person who is living alone is actually in need of help. When assessing the situation and gathering information to share with other family members, asking yourself some of the following questions below may be a good place to start.

Changing Habits or Personality Traits

  • Is your loved one withdrawn, apathetic, negative, suspicious, or unusually fearful of crime?
  • Does he insist that everything is fine, or not admit that there are any problems when confronted?
  • Is your loved one able to manage her own personal care and grooming? Is he wearing dirty clothes, forgetting to bathe or brush teeth, or exhibiting other signs of self-neglect?
  • Has she become isolated? Does she say she is going out when she doesn’t?

Phone Call Behavior

  • Have his conversations become increasingly vague?
  • Do conversations ramble? Does he forget what he is saying or repeat himself?
  • Does she become edgy when talking on the phone? Is she less tolerant of frustration?
  • Does he repeat the same conversation each time as if it was new?

Email or Written Correspondence

  • Has she stopped emailing, participating in social media (like Facebook), writing letters, or sending cards?
  • Is his writing uncharacteristically rambling?
  • Has her handwriting changed?
  • Is it difficult to understand what he is trying to get across?

Meals and Medication

  • Is the person eating meals and taking medications correctly? (A person living with dementia may not eat, or may eat sweets only. They may forget to take medication or take too much medicine.)
  • Is the person forgetting to turn off the stove or burning food?
  • Has she stopped cooking?
  • Is the person using candles or matches?

Other Warning Signs

  • Has the person wandered away from home even once ?
  • Have friends or neighbors called you about your loved one’s behavior or safety ?
  • Has he given you confusing reports of a mishap or car accident?
  • Has she failed to keep appointments or not come to family events?
  • Is the person keeping the house tidy and reasonable clean?
  • Is she warm enough or cool enough?
  • Is the person acting in response to “paranoid” ideas or unrealistic suspicions?
  • Is the person showing good judgement?
  • Is she paying her bills?
  • Is he sending money to every charity that sends an appeal in the mail?

Caring for a loved one living with dementia is challenging in many aspects. Making the decision to remove a person from his/her home is not one made lightly or without support. There are many online and community resources available to support caregivers of those with dementia in navigating this and many other transitions. Consider reaching out to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter or Lifespan of Greater Rochester, which has a number of services for caregivers.


Additional Resources:

Dementia Care at St. John’s

St. John’s Dementia Resource Center

Tips for Successful Dementia Caregiving

Virtual Reality Helps Dementia Caregivers

Infographic: Dementia Quality of Life Focus

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