Living Alone in Older Age with Alzheimer's Disease

Investigator: Elena M. Portacolone, PhD, MBA, MPH
Sponsor: Alzheimer's Association, Inc.

Location(s): United States


There is growing concern about the increasing number of older adults living alone with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Ethical concerns arise when individuals with Alzheimer’s living alone wish to remain independent while they may be in need of help and are at increased risk for poor health outcomes. Individuals living alone with this disease are less likely to use health services and report a higher number of unmet needs in managing money and medications. Despite these alarming findings little is known about the true experience of living alone with Alzheimer’s. It is unclear what support is available to these individuals and what gaps in service they may perceive.

Research Plan 
Elena Portacolone, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.H, and colleagues will examine in detail the experiences of living alone with Alzheimer’s with the goal of improving the health and social integration of this vulnerable population. The research team will utilize in-home interviews and participant observations to compare the experiences of a diverse sample of 40 older adults living alone — 20 with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and 20 cognitively healthy adults. The researchers will also analyze the support networks and health services used by the participants in order to identify potential gaps in services. 

This is the first in-depth study investigating the overall subjective experience of a culturally diverse sample of individuals with Alzheimer’s living alone in the U.S. This innovative study will begin analyzing the ethical and safety implications of older adults with Alzheimer’s “aging in place” — which refers to one’s ability to live in their own home safely, independently and comfortably. Findings from this study will help physicians and policymakers design interventions to improve the health and quality of life of individuals with Alzheimer’s who live alone.