Since my husband died, family and friends have kept me going. However, many older adults don’t have that gift. So let’s look at what older adults going through life alone can do to help themselves age well.
According to The Joint Commission on Housing at Harvard
The-number-of-people-living-alone-in-their-80s-and-90s-is-set-to-soar. Most households headed by someone age 65 or over are either married couples living by themselves (37 percent) or single individuals (42 percent). With age, the share of solo households increases, reaching 58 percent among those 80 and over. As the baby boomers cross into their 80s over the next 20 years, the numbers of single-person households among the oldest age group will grow dramatically, from 4.7 million households in 2018 to an estimated 10.1 million in 2038.
In 2000, Robert Putnam, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, wrote Bowling Alone. Putnam discussed issues confronting baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) and generations to follow in the book. The main problem was a loss of connection among human beings - changes in society such as family structure, women’s roles, and work that have occurred since the 1960s. In his view, these changes led to a different climate for older adults aging alone.
Today’s older Americans are entering a time when 70% of them will need care, and there may be no one to provide the kind of care that family members provided for each other. So, individuals must take matters into their own hands, explore options, and familiarize themselves with available resources. Only then can they take care of their future.
My family totally supports me. Still, I feel a responsibility to do for myself as much as possible. This was a hard-learned lesson!
Before my husband struggled with dementia, we had not discussed subjects such as housing, transportation, or health care when we couldn’t care for each other. We were unprepared in many ways. After dementia took hold, his power to choose was gone. I made the decisions and hoped they would be his choices.
Based on that experience and research, I identified six tips that can help people better prepare for the future – especially “solo agers.” Let me know what you think!
Tip 1: A Vision - Determine where you want to be and what you want to be doing ten years from now. Ask yourself what a fulfilling life would be for you. Does it include finding a new job, volunteering, taking an online course, or joining an interest group?
Planning for the future is a demanding but necessary task. This vision is only your best guess, but it’s a start. It will change over time. Areas to consider include:
Housing - Do you want to stay in your house or community? Would you consider a co-housing community with built-in support? Do you want to live at home or in a retirement community?
Connections - Who will support you, and how can you stay connected?
Finances - Will you have money to pay for future costs?
Caregiving - Who will take care of you when you no longer can? Do you have a General Physician and adequate insurance? Have you a responsible assisted facility in mind if necessary? Visit, ask questions, talk with residents, and get a sense of the accommodations for yourself.
Transportation – If you don’t drive a vehicle, how will you get around?
Legal Paperwork - Do you have an up-to-date power of attorney and will?
Now is the time to do your homework – know what you want, what is available, and how to use it. Knowing this information can provide peace of mind and give you the advantage of making your own life decisions.
Tip 2: A Plan - Once you envision the future, it’s time to plan. Without a plan, you have little control over your future and care. With guidance from trusted friends and advisors, you determine who makes your healthcare and financial decisions when you no longer can.
Tip 3: Support System - After you have a plan, it’s time to put it in place. The first step is to identify trusted friends and advisors who can help you make important decisions and choices. Decide who can help fill the role of caregiver and establish helping relationships before you need them. Identify people to call when you need assistance, inform friends or community members of your needs, and figure out who to support in return. In a sense, build yourself a family.
Tip 4: Legal and Financial Check-Up – Have a will and power of attorney and know where your finances stand. Ensure that legal documents are in order and that they clearly define your end-of-life preferences. This article has helpful ideas.
Tip 5: Social Needs - A major issue for seniors is loneliness. The pandemic has isolated everyone further and made it difficult for most everyone to meet those needs. But there are ways. Apps can check in on you daily, Alexa will read to you and play music, robots may wait on you, and computers allow you to stay in touch with friends and join online groups.
Tip 6: Self-care – This is an essential piece of the puzzle. The youtube channel Sixty and Me is a great resource. Take a look!
Self-care includes taking care of your health. The article, 10 Steps to Healthy, Happy Aging, on the Everyday Health website, suggests body changes that may require attention. Be informed.
I have a strong support system of family and friends who watch over me, but if I were alone my plan would look like this.
I see myself writing this newsletter, painting, using my electronic devices expertly, and traveling the next 10-15 years. I plan to stay in my apartment for as long as possible because stores, restaurants, the doctor, and the bank are within walking distance. Numerous delivery services are available.
I visited local care facilities and met with in-home care providers when I made decisions for my husband. In-home care is my first option if I need assistance, then a carefully selected assisted living facility. My desire is to be cremated. I selected the cremation service and hospice care when or if they are needed.
Because of pandemic requirements and my husband’s unwillingness to discuss the topic, we didn’t visit the facility before he went there. In retrospect, I would have visited several times, gotten comfortable with the place, and met with his team.
I was afraid to drive the car after having a detached retina; so gave up my drivers’ license. Now, I walk, but I can use Uber, taxis, or public transportation.
We had a lawyer, wills, and powers of attorney. Because my husband was unable to understand or sign the paperwork in later years, having that in place was helpful.
I retained the Financial Planner and CPA that we had; so know what our finances are.
I go out as often as possible and am renewing old relationships. I would have to find other ways to socialize - maybe join the local senior center or attend aging adults’ meetups. Developing a new community of friends is a challenge.
I eat healthy food and walk daily to take care of myself. But there is much more to it than that. I am finding ways to deal with the loneliness and grief, to honor what I have accomplished over the past years, and forgive myself for the “should haves.”
An article by Matt Frasier, well-known psychic medium, has been helpful. He says that to heal, we must accept, forgive, and move on has been. This is a work in progress.
My friend, “Rose,” has a chronic illness and is a sole ager.
Rose sees herself as aging well despite a chronic health problem that is somewhat confining. She has a boat, takes trips, is involved in numerous activities, and enjoys life.
She selected a retirement community and paid a retainer to live there when she can no longer live alone. Until then, Rose plans to remain in her home, which was built with her disability in mind.
Her legal and financial affairs are in order. She has an executor of her estate who holds the financial and medical power of attorney.
Rose’s group of friends have a phone tree, check in with each other daily, and get together when possible. They take each other to appointments and help out as needed. She is formalizing her plan. This group of friends doesn’t make up for the loneliness she feels since losing her husband ten years ago.
Rose takes care of her health, has regular check-ups, exercises, and pays attention to her current needs.
While many people fear growing old alone and losing their independence, they can take steps now to prepare for aging, Steps that can ensure their well-being later on and their peace of mind now.
Janice this is a thoughtful and informative article. Thank you!
excellent article Thank you