Tips for Success When Seniors Live Alone, From the February 2016 Harvard Health Letter

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Certain strategies can help ensure independence and safety for older adults living alone. For example maintaining social connections, and using services that deliver groceries, run errands, and clean homes.

Seniors who live alone face many risks, such as isolation, depression, and a lack of help in emergencies. Despite the many tools to help reduce those risks, some older adults don’t take advantage of them. “The misconception is that any acceptance of help is somehow the beginning of a slippery slope into dependence and losing control of one’s life,” says Barbara Moscowitz, a geriatric social worker at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. But utilizing tools and services to remain independent enhances the ability to live alone, reports the February 2016 Harvard Health Letter.

One of the most important tools is a safety alert button, a waterproof device that alerts 911 with a single touch. “This device must stay on the body 24 hours a day,” says Moscowitz. “It won’t do any good on a nightstand if the person has fallen in the shower.” Prices range from $25 to $50 per month, depending on the system.

Moscowitz also recommends an emergency supply kit for electricity outages or times when older adults can’t get to the store. The kit should include three days’ worth of supplies, such as food and water. And to avoid running out of medications, it's best to refill prescriptions when there’s a one-week supply remaining.

Convenience services are also a must for older adults who live alone, such as ride services; pharmacies, restaurants, and grocery stores that deliver; and errand services. And if the activities of daily living — such as bathing, dressing, taking medication, and cooking — become too difficult, private-duty care can keep seniors independent and at home longer, and help them avoid moving to a retirement home. These services can be expensive, but moving to assisted living can also be costly.

Read the full-length article: "Steps to stay independent when you live alone"

Also in the February 2016 issue of the Harvard Health Letter:

  • Why more doctors are prescribing mindfulness
  • Easy exercise breaks for "keyboard athletes"
  • The health benefits of intimacy in the older years

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).
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Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
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