Saturday, August 31, 2013

Older Adults Alone in Crisis: Personal Alarms, Home Care Aides (Palliative Care Research)

Recently, I became aware of three crisis incidents impacting older adult women living alone in apartment buildings, two in my city.

The first woman fell and stayed on the floor for three days with no assistance. Because she had removed the personal alarm device she was supposed to wear at all times, she had no way of contacting anyone. Fortunately, she was discovered on the third day. The doctor said she would have died in another day if she had not been reached then.

The second woman was being called on the phone regularly by family members, but for several days there were problems with her phone. Family members assumed she was probably doing well as usual. On the fourth day, still with no phone response, a family member asked the apartment manager to check on her. She had already died from a heart attack.

The tragic story of the third woman was on the news. A leaking roof lead to her discovery. She had been dead in her apartment for FIVE YEARS before anyone found her badly decomposed body. Rent and other bills had been paid through her bank. Her apartment was on the top floor where few people ever ventured.

These women’s devastating experiences are beyond heartbreaking. With so much discussion about the availability of family caregivers, it’s almost easy to forget the large numbers of older adults who are ill and living home alone, many in multiple dwellings. This population has the disadvantage of experiencing higher levels of distress and is less likely to die at home than those living with family caregivers. Their needs for safe independent living and peace of mind are very important.

In this research study on 26 palliative care patients of Silver Chain Hospice Care, participants were randomly assigned to either having a personal alarm or additional care-aide hours in their home. Through interviews with patients, this information was revealed:

1)   The care-aide model of care resulted in benefits such as easing the burden of everyday living, supporting well-being and a sense of dignity, and reducing loneliness.

2)   The personal alarm model of care resulted in a sense of security and also helped with feelings of loneliness.

Both groups felt they could continue living at home longer with these forms of assistance available. Feeling that they were safer with a personal alarm or additional care hours improved their ability to live independently at home and successfully continue  daily living activities.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

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