Last month, I wrote about the importance of reaching out to those who might be facing isolation during the holidays. That prompted me to further question the problem of isolation. How do these folks face the many issues of aging? Do they have a support mechanism in place to assist them?
This growing demographic has a name: solo agers, or elder orphans. They may be divorced, widowed or never married. If you are an aging adult who, for whatever reason, is without the support of adult children, close family members or close friends, you are a solo ager. PEW Research estimates that 27% of adults 60 and older live alone and 37% of women older than 65 live by themselves.
Is this a problem?
An expert in this field, Sara Zeff Geber, says older Americans are entering years in which 70% likely will need care.
“Without a strong familial and/or social network, there may be no one to provide the kind of care being given by the families of our current 80, 90 and 100-plus year olds,” Zeff Geber said. “Boomers must take matters into their own hands and begin to explore their options and available resources for the future.”
Solo agers typically want to stay independent. When issues arise, not having support can make the transition from independence to dependence extremely difficult or impossible. We all eventually reach a point where we must depend on someone else for help or support. Geber says solo-aging boomers must plan for those less-independent years.
Solo agers must take the time to plan for their future. If they don’t, when they really need help, there is no one to call! During medical events, they may not have an advocate and are at risk for lack of care, inadequate care or care that goes against their wishes.
So, solo agers must be intentional about their future needs:
- Complete the estate-planning process, including a living will and durable power of attorney. Keep all legal documents up to date.
- If there are concerns, seek support to resolve them.
- Think carefully about where to live. Will there be easily accessible resources? Solo agers sometimes form communities to live together. Even long-term care facilities are restructuring to allow solo residents to live in proximity to each other.
- Prepare for long-term care.
Also, cultivate a support network:
- Reach out to other solo agers and create a pact to help each other.
- Develop friendships.They must be people you can trust.
- Find an accountability partner to bounce ideas/plans off.
- If necessary, hire a professional when trusted support is needed.
- Communicate in case of a long-term care event.
- Build a caregiving team.
And, avoid emotional loneliness:
- Form relationships with younger people.
- Live near other solo agers.
- Stay social or become social.
- Identify someone to check in with you on a regular basis.
- Consider adopting a pet. Remember to plan for the pet’s care after you pass.
- Continue to travel. Tour companies and cruise lines are offering more options for solo travelers.
Also, invest in an alert system, not only for safety and protection but also for peace of mind for distant friends or relatives.
Finally, seek out a service that can help create a solo aging plan or provide support or advocacy in time of need.
Traditional retirement-planning concepts also apply for solo agers. The difference is solo agers must be proactive in reaching out for help to put plans in place while they are able. The cost of denial is much harsher when they no longer can fend for themselves. Planning remains the key to maintaining independence.
More information: Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers by Sara Zeff Geber, or search “solo agers.”
Ron Smith is a living-in-place advocate, a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee, a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and a Certified Living in Place Professional.