Solo Agers face a variety of challenges when growing older alone but the top and most worrisome is, “How do I compensate for not having adult children and other family members to look out for me, because counting on good friends is not what I want to do.”
It’s a common remark and dilemma that adults voice during the speaking engagements I give to seniors and family caregivers.
It’s the same worry I encountered after taking care of my parents. After they died and thinking back how difficult it was to meet the demands as a caregiver, it occurred to me how lucky my parents were to have three loving daughters to look out for them. But I wondered, “Who will do all that for me when I need help?”
The older adult segment, 55 and over, aging alone with no help has risen from 17 million in 2020, and its expected to increase to 25 million in 2030. The 2010 U.S. Census found 27 percent of adults 65 and over to age alone. In the upcoming 2020 Census, it expects to see that number approach 31 percent or more.
What’s alarming is that nearly half (48 percent) of households headed by someone 55 and older lack some form of retirement savings, according to the latest estimates by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). And if a big portion of these folks have no one to rely on for care when needed, what will they do?
Members of my Facebook group for adults aging alone share similar concerns. Some find it very discouraging to create networks of friends or neighbors to help one another out for a period of time and then a key person moves to another part of the country for health, family, or financial reasons, leaving the support group in a lurch. As members grow older, they lose the emotional flexibility and resilience to continue searching for help.
As I’ve heard time and time again, “Plan for the worst but hope for the best.” We can’t count on life to follow our plans. But what I’ve learned from creating my own future plan is once you learn how to set it in motion, it’s easy to replicate it. It’s riding a bicycle, you never lose the skill. Do it one time well, you can do it again, just follow the same action steps.
We must learn the steps that pull us closer to success. And for older adults, success is aging well and having a strong network of dependable and trustworthy friends and neighbors who support us.
What happens to us when we don’t have a strong social network? MDLinx, a news service for physicians, reports “The newest epidemic in America now affects up to 47% of adults—double the number affected a few decades ago.” The epidemic is loneliness and it affects patients’ health, and it’s more widespread than we think. When we live alone, especially when older and in need of help, we put ourselves at risk of cognitive decline, adverse health risks, early death, and depression and suicide.
It’s a critical concern especially if we don’t have family nearby. Here are a few trends that seniors are following to create support:
Share your home by taking on a roommate. But be careful when picking a roommate. It’s not so important to connect emotionally or to share your feelings. It’s more important to share responsibilities and complement each other so that you can avoid constant conflict. Be sure to fairly negotiate ahead of time not just expenses, but also who will be responsible for what chores and other household responsibilities. But having a roommate might be a good way to look out for one another.
Websites that offer long term lease strategies for older adults are Roommates.com and Silvernest.com. They provide all the resources for vetting a roommate and creating all the necessary legal documents.
Before you rent out a room, read these books, Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, and Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates. You can find them on Amazon.
The National Shared Housing Resource Center (NSHRC) is a network of independent non-profit home sharing programs across the United States. Their goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of home sharing, encourage best practices and cross learning among programs, and to foster the development of new home sharing programs. Check out their state by state directory on their website.
I encourage each of us to start planning for the future challenges. It’s never too late. But the sooner you start, the better you’ll get at adjusting for the changes life throws our way.
By Carol Marak, Solo Aging Advocate and Advisor, founder, CarolMarak.com, and the Elder Orphan Facebook Group. Check out her daily tips for healthy aging on the Solo and Smart YouTube channel. Her upcoming book, Solo and Smart, is due out in bookstores and Amazon in 2021.