Many people experience living alone in later life as proportion of people living alone continue to rise because of population ageing, decreased family sizes and government policies promoting ageing in place. Negative experiences such as isolation, loneliness and poor social network associated with ageing in place may limit an individual’s ability to live alone successfully in later life. However, a report, published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, suggest no association between living alone and poorer cognitive function.
Study used baseline (n=3593) and 2-year follow-up data (n=2236) from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study–Wales to evaluate community-dwelling participants aged ≥65 years without cognitive impairment or depression at baseline. Social isolation, loneliness and cognitive function were assessed using Lubben Social Network Scale–6, De Jong Gierveld scale and Cambridge Cognitive Examination, respectively.
At baseline, 624 people were living alone. Compared to living with others, living alone was associated with isolation from family, but not from friends. People who lived alone reported significantly greater feelings of overall and emotional loneliness, but did not experience difference in feelings of social loneliness as they were more likely to engage in regular social activity. No association was observed between living alone and poorer cognitive function at baseline or 2-year follow-up (P<.001>
These findings are a positive note for people living alone in later life, a period when living alone is likelier than any other period in the lifespan. Authors suggest that living alone could be a benefit as it increases the capability to manage independently. However, those not able to manage themselves independently because of poor cognitive function or health may need to move into a care home.