Alone But Not Lonely: Tips for Solo Aging
There’s a famous song where the singer wails “All by myself…don’t wanna be…all by myself.” But being alone can bring benefits, like building empathy, productivity, creativity, and mental strength. Today, more than one in four adults over age 60 lives alone in the United States; senior women are more likely than senior men to live on their own.
Whether you plan to age solo or find yourself doing so, there are actions to take to ensure the twilight years are joyous, healthy, and safe.
1. Make your plans. Planning becomes more essential when you age alone. Get the standard documents completed, updated, and compiled: your will and a financial durable power of attorney; an advance directive naming a healthcare durable power of attorney and/or living will; financial documents including information on bank accounts, trusts, and insurance; personal documents like passports, IDs, marriage certificates, and logins with passwords. You may discover that there are a lot of serious decisions to make during this planning phase, so give yourself time but set a realistic schedule.
2. Find your community. As the adage goes, it’s all about location, location, location. Where you decide to live solo will shape your aging life. Whether at home, in a retirement condo, or at an assisted living facility, it’s important that you find a community of engagement and interaction. Research shows that isolation and loneliness increase health risks like depression, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Proximity to friends, family, cultural centers, and transportation allows for natural connections.
3. Know your bottom line. It costs a lot to grow old; there may be higher medical bills and added daily assistance. Retirement and other communities can have entrance fees plus monthly stipends. So, you need to realistically consider what your solo aging budget will be. It’s also critical that you are careful in who you trust to assist with finances. Elder financial abuse steals up to $36.5 billion annually. Find ways with trusted advisors to protect your money, either through trusts or certified financial planners.
4. Anticipate your changing needs. Over time, your health may decline; mobility, sensory, and cognitive abilities may change. Determine now what you will do if solo living is no longer workable. Consider how long you might be able to afford home health visits or when an assisted living residence would be the appropriate change. Also, how will you ensure your safety as you age? Beyond the physical environment, what social relationships can you establish now that will protect you? For example, a younger relative to regularly have tea together or a dog walker who drops in daily can help watch out for your wellbeing.
5. Be the CEO of your aging process. Good CEOs have smart people providing advice—you can do the same. Assemble a team of experts to help you navigate decision making on a variety of topics, who will listen to your needs and actively problem-solve with you. Your board could include a financial planner, elder or estate lawyer, contractor or construction worker (for home renovations), social worker (for community resources), medical professional, spiritual leader or guide, and trusted friends and family.
Aging alone doesn’t need to be lonely. In fact, it can be reaffirming. But to make the most of it, you need to plan for it so you don’t end up wailing like a forlorn singer.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from Forbes, Pew Research Center, The Washington Post, The Motley Fool, University of North Carolina.