Is There a Downside to Aging in Place?

Life is full of decisions to make, and the number of decisions we have to make does not decrease as we get older, nor do the decisions get less consequential. In fact, one of the biggest choices you’ll have to make is how to spend your old age: are you going to consider moving into an assisted living facility, will you have family to live with, or are you hoping to be able to “age in place,” or keep living in your own home for as long as possible? 

While it’s not always possible to make this decision on your own, depending on your health, it is a decision that you should have as much of a say in as possible. And if you’re like the majority of seniors nowadays, your preference is probably to stay put, for multiple reasons. But is there a downside to aging in place? As with anything, there are certainly pros and cons, but one major con to consider is the toll that aging in place can take on your mental health if you live alone, which can lead to feeling socially isolated. So does this downside negate the positive aspects of aging in place, or are there ways to combat this social isolation?

The Desire to Age in Place

What is aging in place? According to the CDC, this means “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” Sounds good, right? That’s probably why, as we mentioned above, if your goal is to age in place, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, a survey by the AARP has found that 77% of adults over 50 plan to stay in their homes for the long term, and that’s on the lowest end of the spectrum. Most surveys tend to show that 90% of older adults want to stay in their own homes as they age.

silhouette of an older couple under a house roof

According to Martin Lenoir, chief marketing officer at American Advisors Group (AAG), which did a survey on how meaningful “the home” is to seniors, “For seniors, the comfort, safety and independence of their home outweigh the desire to move.” In fact, AAG found that:

  • Over 90% of seniors prefer to remain in their homes as opposed to moving into an assisted living facility
  • 82% have no concrete plans to ever sell their home or move away

And why is this? According to this survey:

  • 83% of respondents stated they feel safer at home compared to elsewhere
  • 40% said their independence is the most important benefit of aging in place
  • More than 50% of seniors have an “emotional attachment” to their home because it reminds them of their family

Studies have also found that aging in place can promote life satisfaction, a positive quality of life, and self-esteem, all of which are needed to remain happy, healthy, and well into old age. But as mentioned above, there can be a dark side to staying at home.

The Dangers of Isolation

Aging in place can often mean living alone at some point; in fact, nearly one-third of all seniors live by themselves, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s close to 14 million seniors aging alone. And while living alone is not problematic for some older adults, it can lead to loneliness – generally around 40% of seniors report feeling lonely, with that number rising to well over 50% in 2020 during the pandemic – and even isolation-induced depression.

And it isn’t just the actual living alone that can be a problem for older adults, it’s the perception of loneliness and isolation (remember: loneliness doesn’t refer to being alone, rather it refers to feeling alone). As you age, it can be harder to get out to do the things you want to do, you might have lost a spouse who was your confidante, or family might be further away than you’d like them to be.

dangers of isolation infographic

These feelings of social isolation and loneliness can actually put your health at risk. Recent studies have found that:

  • Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.
  • Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
  • Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

Those are some very dire statistics, but they don’t mean that you should give up on the idea of aging in place. If you’re physically able to stay home, the sense of independence, and the connection to the memories in your family home, can make staying put totally worthwhile. And there are ways to combat loneliness, social isolation, and all of the negative consequences that can come with those psychological impacts of living alone.

How Older Adults Can Avoid Social Isolation

If you’re aging in place, and living alone (or even if your spouse is still living with you, and you need more socializing), there are ways to combat loneliness. For example:

2 older women sitting on a bench outside
If you are feeling isolated, then reach out to family or friends.

Reach out

This is something that you’ve heard before, but it’s worth saying again: the first step to combating loneliness is to reach out. Have friends stop over, keep up with your neighbors, and set up a weekly time for grandkids or other close contacts to stop by for a visit. 

Consider a roommate

Sure, your college days are over, but there’s no reason why you can’t buddy up in your older age. In fact, seniors taking on roommates is a growing trend in the U.S., as more people are looking for help with the rent or mortgage, as well as companionship. And don’t worry, you don’t have to rely on placing an ad and hoping for the best: there are actually services that safely and effectively match up older adults with roommates.

Get some help around the house

If you need a helping hand, don’t hesitate to look into an in-home caregiver. They can provide practical assistance with things like meal prep, housekeeping, and transportation (so you can get out of the house more!), but they can also provide companionship, as well.

Give back 

Now that you’ve got more time on your hands, and you’re looking to spend some time with others, it’s the perfect time to consider volunteering. Local libraries, museums, schools, animal shelters, gardens, etc all need help, so whatever your interests you should be able to find a way to get involved in your community and meet new people.

Share your interests

Whatever your hobbies, try to find others who share them – and don’t be shy about telling your loved ones about them. They’ll be interested to know what makes you happy, and might want to join in so you can spend time together.

Get moving

Joining an exercise class is a great way to get out and meet people, as well get healthier and give yourself a shot of all those mood-boosting endorphins, making working out a win-win-win situation!

Be a joiner

Look into your local senior center, which probably has classes and activities geared towards older adults. You can meet people with similar interests, and learn something new!

Know your transport options

If you’re still driving, great! But if that’s not something you’re as comfortable with now that you’re getting older, make sure you know your options. Public transport can really be your friend (and many cities offer free bus passes for seniors), but if you live somewhere without as many public options, set up an account with a ride-sharing app like Lyft, or look into local senior centers, which sometimes offer transport for older adults.

hands on a tablet screen
If you cannot see your family or friends, then you consider seeing them through technology!

Embrace technology

If you can’t see your family and friends in person as much as you’d like, remember that you can see them anytime you like with the help of modern technology! Get yourself a smartphone or tablet and install an app like WhatsApp, which has a super easy video calling function, and your loved ones will be literally in your pocket and right there at your fingertips! Sure, it’s not exactly the same as spending time in person, but if you’re not sure about it, consider this: studies show that older adults who use email, instant messaging or social media platforms like Facebook have about the same rate of depressive symptoms as those who do not use any communication technologies. But people who use video chat applications have almost half the estimated probability of depressive symptoms.

Find a balance

Remember, only you can determine what the “right” amount of socializing is for you. Your friends and family might be concerned about you spending time alone, and with the best of intentions, try to pack your social calendar. If that’s not what you need, let them know! 

If you’re healthy and in the financial position to do so, aging in place can be a great option for keeping you feeling independent and in control as you age. You should absolutely be able to make this decision for yourself, but you also have to remember that avoiding social isolation needs to be near the top of your list of things to consider when thinking about what staying in your home as you age will look like. But with a good plan, some creativity, and a willingness to seek out opportunities, you’ll be able to ensure good mental health and continued social connections as you age in place.

Don’t Wait For Santa, Help An Isolated Senior This Christmas

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, to some. To others, especially lonely seniors, it is a very depressing time. Some seniors exist in the “assisted living” environment; they cannot travel to see loved ones, don’t get visits, or are immobile. To make matters worse, some are dealing with the loss of a loved one, even a partner.

Santa hands holding wrapped gifts
You can volunteer to help make a lonely senior happy this Christmas by volunteering in the Be A Santa To A Senior program.

If you are looking for a way to give back to the community, try volunteering in the Be a Santa to a Senior Program. This program is a holiday-oriented and was created to give attention and joy to isolated seniors. 

The Program

During the holiday season, Home Instead Senior Care partners up with local non-profit, community organizations to find seniors who are lonely and not receiving gifts. They ask the seniors what they need, and then they create a tree ornament with the request. Local businesses like retail stores help Home Instead by placing these trees in their lobbies or otherwise.

How You Can Help

You can make a senior’s day this Christmas by participating in the Be a Santa to a Senior Program. The gift, no matter how small, could completely change their holiday. Kindness is the real gift here, and showing this person that they are not alone. Someone cares enough to give up their time to help a stranger. 

You can help by:

  1. Finding a participating Be a Santa to a Senior location.
  2. Removing an ornament off the tree with a senior’s gift request.
  3. Purchasing the gift requested.
  4. Putting the ornament and the unwrapped gift in the designated box at the participating store.
Christmas tree with silver ornaments
Seniors will write what they need and it will be put on an ornament. You can pick up the ornament and buy what they ask for and bring it back to the store.

The program began in 2003 and runs across the USA and Canada, and has helped by providing more than a million gifts to 700,000 seniors. An example of a request can be “a pair of reading glasses for Sam.”

When you purchase the request and place it in the designated box, it is then gathered by volunteers. These volunteers collect the items, wrap them, and deliver them to the seniors. 

You can give a lonely senior knowledge that someone cares;. A stranger went out of their way to get them something from their Christmas list.

Depression in seniors impairs their ability to function and enjoy life. It can also contribute to poorer overall health, not to mention a higher suicide risk. According to data collected in 2015, people 85 years old and older had the second-highest suicide rate in the U.S. 

If you are able to give up some of your time and a small amount of money, find a participating Be A Santa To A Senior location and grab a bulb (ornament). You will make that senior’s Christmas joyful, and unforgettable. Everyone can use a little pick-me-up during the holiday season, so why not be a Santa to a senior who needs it?

Why Are Senior Suicide Rates Rising?

Suicide is often associated with young people, but it is in fact much more common among seniors. The suicide risk increases with age, and is unfortunately hard to estimate the exact number due to “silent suicides.” Silent suicides are considered those of overdose, self-starvation, and self-dehydration. 

Woman with gray hair sitting on a bench looking out into the dessert.
Loneliness is a large problem for seniors and puts them at a higher risk.

Seniors at long-term care facilities are taking their lives more than ever. Some can no longer accept the fact that they are slowly dying, while others have mental health issues. Most mental health issues do not get addressed for the elderly. Why? Either they do not speak up about it, or it is not covered by insurance. So, why is the suicide rate going up?

Loneliness & Depression

Losing a loved one and feeling alone contributes greatly to a person committing suicide. Extensive research shows that post-breakup or losing a spouse, elderly men are at a high risk of suicide. Loneliness is a large problem for seniors and puts them at a higher risk. They feel like they have no one to talk to and fall into depression. 

Mental Health

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that about 1 in 5 adults deal with some form of mental illness each year. About 20% of adults sixty-five and older in America are diagnosed with either schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and/or certain phobias. Some seniors will not seek help, get it too late, or get misdiagnosed. 

Substance Abuse

Once a senior has dealt with a life crisis such as the loss of their spouse, or falling into depression, they can turn to alcohol and drugs. This is the third most common risk factor of suicide in seniors. Substance abuse has been an issue for years, but  recent rates show significant rises. The government is struggling to reduce the opioid issue in America, especially among seniors.

Physical Health

Physical ailments are hard to accept, Learning you can no longer function, or move around the same way, takes a toll on a person’s mental state. A research conducted in 2017 found that seniors with traumatic brain injury, sleep disorders, and HIV or AIDS had an increased suicide risk. Some seniors feel like they are better off gone than to need constant care. This is also a large reason as to why seniors in long-term care facilities will take their own life. Instead of waiting for death, they choose to meet it.


calculator balancinf a spoon with coins in it and a potato stuck on the other end.
Many seniors struggle to pay their medical bills, housing costs, and daily living expenses, so they look for a way out with suicide.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has found that more than 25 million Americans sixty years old and older are living at or below the federal poverty level. Many seniors struggle to pay their medical bills, housing costs, and daily living expenses. This stress leaves them feeling hopeless and considering suicide. That way they will no longer have to deal with the burden and will not have to put pressure on their family. 

There is always an easier way to deal with stress. Seek help and talk to a professional if you feel suicidal. Reach out to your family, and know that you have a sense of purpose. If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.