Older people living alone

In my article of last Monday, I referred to assaults on two older women living alone or being alone momentarily. Such attacks on defenseless people are often perpetrated by rogues, rapists and probably recidivists if they are not close members of the family circle or known in the neighborhood. But older people living alone may be subjected to a longer list of challenges. In the course of our reading, we have come across these.

Social Isolation

While many have chosen to live alone in their old age, others have found themselves unwillingly or unexpectedly alone. They would go shopping, to the dentist’s, to the health center walking or taking the bus but would not socialize, that is, find time or find pleasure to meet with people talking, playing games or even having a cup of tea or a ‘drink’ occasionally or more interestingly (?) on a particular day of the week. A lonely person could resist depression for some time but would feel the weight of it in the long run as anxiety creeps in to stay.

The risks are there for an ‘illiterate’ person or for one who has a visual impairment reading the medications, missing them or taking an overdose.
How long would that older person live alone or how soon should he/she opt to live in a residential care home is a matter of concern. Would social workers, visiting doctors, psychologists, the carer/s and the buddies of the older person advise?  

Social Status

We hear more of poor older persons living alone because these are likely to be poor? We have seen some begging along the line of cars at junctions telling you they have to afford for rent, food, utilities, and occasionally but compulsorily a taxi to go to the hospital. The overhead costs have increased while the needs haven’t. Their situation becomes grimmer when, say, the water and power supplies are cut off. Living alone then becomes expensive. How could that person make a personal planning the more so when he or she is incapacitated physically and with growing mental hassle? 

Living conditions, personal hygiene and general health status are causes of increased stress. 

The living alone person may cut costs, use less electricity (not water), sell the car and use public transport, sell his house, which is quite common in Mauritius, opt for an affordable apartment or a residential care home with the required comfort, although this notion of comfort is relatively assessed in its different aspects. These include bedroom, washroom, common room, times of daily routine and how much the home goes outside the beaten track. 

Safety Issues

The image of the smiling old woman or man is often more arresting than that of a complaining or suffering older woman or man. The image speaks it all. This is true to the person who lives alone or in company. The domestic hazards are multiple: Stairs difficult to climb unassisted, narrow corridors for the wheelchairs, washroom and bathrooms not equipped with grab bars which are essential for sick and amputated persons.

There may be loose electricity wires or loose electricity plugs, slippery floors, wet mattress or seemingly mattress on the floor and if the lonely person lights a cigarette when in a semi-comatose state, the risks of fire killing, burning to ashes are high. Several such cases have been reported in the media.

Safety Measures

There is a very good example of caring for older people and particularly for older people living alone in the jurisdiction of the Police Station of Eau-Coulée. The Police effect regular visits and tender advice as to, for example, the emergency contacts that could be a close one and the Police Station.

Older people, lonely or living with family, are proud of exposing their lucidity and physical capacity to do things. Precautions are the order of the day: Be careful of new faces walking around, impostors offering to repair the electricity connection, be careful of slippery floors that might cost life or permanent disability with suffering, taking the prescribed medicine with the correct dosage, inform someone of their choice of movements, and avoid hasty and heavy cleaning activities although climbing a ladder might give you a sensation of ability to reach certain heights!

All Concerned

Older people living alone face more challenges whether they are economically well off or are at the lower rung of the ladder. But this is a challenge that we, too, as a society face. All institutions from the Village Council, the Municipal Council, because these are closer to the inhabitants, more than the Central Government included, have to continuously improve an age-friendly environment which enables people to participate in community life even if for some good reason, someone has chosen to live alone in her or his older days.

Vijay Naraidoo
President of the Commission for the Rights of Older People of DIS-MOI


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