While it does come with challenges, living alone with dementia is very possible, though it does require understanding the challenges and implementing proper planning. 

We spoke with Michael Splaine, the owner and principal of Splaine Consulting, which he established after a more than 20-year career on the public policy and advocacy staff of the Alzheimer’s Association. Splaine and his team established Living Alone and Connected, a private Facebook community for people living alone with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and their caregivers. This private group gives people the opportunity to share their challenges as well as tips that can help other people. 

He shares that living alone with dementia offers many benefits, most importantly, maintaining dignity and independence. People can be happier and more in control of their own homes, where they can keep their routines and stay in their communities. 

“What disables someone with dementia is not the dementia,” he says. “It’s what people think dementia means.”

He explains that Alzheimer’s and other dementias come in stages, so people have time to prepare. “It’s not like you get a diagnosis and the next thing you know, you need to be cared for,” he says. “But sometimes that’s how we act.” 

Splaine says it takes being honest with yourself about your limitations to live alone with dementia. It also requires courage. “People may feel the need to take charge of your life, but it’s important not to swoop in too soon,” he says. “People can still live their best lives with dementia.”

There are several keys to living that best life, including planning ahead, implementing that plan, knowing who you can rely on, and knowing when you need to ask for help. 

“Ideally, those living alone with dementia have created a plan and identified trusted friends or relatives who can help them when they can’t make their own choices,” Splaine says. “They know there will come a day when they need help, but that day is not today.” 

Understanding the Challenges

When creating your plan, it’s important to understand what your challenges might be. Some of them could include: 

  • Managing daily tasks: Difficulty with cooking, cleaning, and other household chores
  • Memory loss: Forgetting to take medications, turn off appliances, or keep track of important dates
  • Safety risks: Increased risk of falls, wandering, and accidents
  • Isolation: Potential for social isolation and loneliness

Practical Strategies for Living Alone with Dementia

With the right strategies and support in place, it is possible to live alone and maintain independence. 

Simplify Daily Tasks

  • Routine: Establish a daily routine to create consistency and reduce confusion. Put items like keys and medication away in the same place every time 
  • Visual cues: Use labels, notes, and calendars to keep track of important tasks and dates
  • Meal Prep: prepare simple meals in advance or use meal delivery services to ensure proper nutrition

Create a Safe Environment

Splaine says one of the most popular activities in Living Alone and Connected is with an occupational therapist who identifies the specifics of setting up a home to be safe and accessible. “Setting up a home to be dementia-friendly, means it’s most likely to be age- and disability-friendly as well,” he says. 

  • Remove hazards: Clear walkways, secure rugs, and ensure good lighting to prevent falls
  • Install proper lighting: Walk around the home at night and identify places where it might be difficult to see, then install lighting or set up lamps to make it easier
  • Install safety devices: Use smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and automatic shut-off devices for appliances
  • Secure the home: Install locks on doors and windows, and consider a security system to prevent wandering

Stay Connected

  • Regular check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins with family, friends, or neighbors to provide social interaction and ensure safety
  • Community programs: Participate in local dementia support groups and community activities to stay engaged and connected. These can be in-person or online like the Living Alone and Connected Facebook group
  • Professional care: Consider hiring a professional caregiver for regular visits to assist with tasks and provide companionship

Use Technology

  • Medication reminders: Use pill organizers with alarms or smartphone apps to remind you to take your medication
  • GPS tracking: Wearable GPS devices (like smart watches) can help locate people who might wander
  • Smart home devices: Voice-activated assistants can help with reminders, making calls, and controlling home functions. Other devices can manage door locks, smart lights, smoke detectors, emergency contact systems, and appliances like thermostats, stoves, and televisions. 

The  Nevada Assistive Technology Resource Center is a statewide project of the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED), and it’s housed at the University of Nevada, Reno. They offer solutions, training and even loans of assistive technology to help with speaking, writing, hearing, remembering, learning, walking, mobility, driving, and many other activities of daily living. For more information, call 833-427-1672 or email: natrc@unr.edu.

Plan for Emergencies

  • Emergency contacts: Keep a list of emergency contacts easily accessible
  • Medical information: Maintain a record of medical conditions, medications, and doctors’ contact information
  • Emergency plan: Develop an emergency plan that includes what to do in case of a medical emergency, fire, or other urgent situations
  • Advance directive: Splaine says it’s important for everyone to have an advanced directive prepared. This is a legal document that specifies your wishes regarding medical treatment, and who can speak for you, if you’re unable to speak for yourself

Resources and Support

Living alone with dementia requires a strong support system and access to resources. 

Know When You Need Help

Splaine says that as important as it is to live independently, it’s just as important to know when to ask for help. “Unfortunately, this often happens when they get taken advantage of financially,” he says. 

If you find yourself frequently forgetting important tasks, such as taking medication, paying bills, or keeping track of appointments, it’s a good idea to reach out for assistance. Feeling confused or lost in familiar places, struggling with daily activities, or experiencing sudden mood changes are also signs that you might need some extra support. 

Remember, asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. Whether it’s family, friends, or professional caregivers, there are people ready and willing to help you.

Maintaining Independence and Quality of Life

By creating a safe environment, utilizing technology, staying connected, and planning for emergencies, people with dementia can, and do, maintain their independence and enjoy their best lives.

For more information and resources, visit NeighborNV.org/community-care/dementia-care or contact us directly at people@neighbornv.org. We are here to support you on your journey towards independence and well-being.