When imagining our later years, many envision family by our side. But, with more Americans choosing an independent lifestyle and a growing number of adults living without a spouse or partner, the trend of aging solo is on the rise. In fact, more than 20 percent of adults sixty-five and older are aging independently or anticipate doing so in the future, according to AARP.
Commonly referred to as solo agers, many adults are navigating their later years alone – whether they are single by choice, widowed, divorced, or separated. Some healthcare experts have broadened the definition to include those with long-distance or unavailable caregivers.
While many solo agers embrace their independent lifestyle and enjoy the freedom that comes with living alone, growing older can feel overwhelming at the best of times, even with a strong network of family and friends to help guide the way. And, though we hate to think of it, the worst of times – like a power outage or global pandemic – can leave aging adults debilitated by cutting off access to their regular resources and support systems.
Even what many doctors might call a simple hip or knee replacement can be a setback for seniors who are used to driving themselves to the grocery store and doctors’ appointments.
What’s most important for all aging adults, solo ager or not, is to create a plan early on. Start asking questions now like:
• Who will I call in an emergency?
• What happens if I can’t drive?
• Will I still be able to physically navigate my house in five years? Ten years?
• Who will make smart financial and medical choices on my behalf if I’m no longer able to do so?
Planning for the future shouldn’t be a bleak task, though. If anything, it’s empowering. It should be considered a way of ensuring you will continue to live your best life despite any of life’s curve balls.
So, whether you (or a loved one) plan on aging alone or not, consider these five tips to safeguard your future happiness and wellbeing.
1. Plan for future care. There may come a time when you can no longer care for yourself independently. Research all potential options, including professional caregivers and assisted living facilities in your community, before deciding what is right for you.
2. Build a community. Meaningful relationships can make a world of difference in how happy and connected a person feels. To avoid isolation, try to identify individuals who might be willing to help you along your journey. Remember that many senior centers also offer services along with meal programs for older adults to socialize with each other.
3. Discuss your future home. Whether you or your loved one is planning to age in a current home, downsize, move to a senior living community, or choose to live with relatives, it’s important to weigh every option before determining what home might look like for you. If you want to stay at home, consider contacting a senior care professional and/or contractor for advice, and be sure to examine elements like stairs, doorways, and bathrooms regarding accessibility.
4. Manage your estate. Insurance agents and financial planners can help determine the best options for professional care and put your mind at ease. If you don’t have a family member, spouse, or designated surrogate to make legal and medical decisions on your behalf, appoint a trusted advisor.
5. Start conversations early. By having discussions about desires and preferences early on, both you and your loved ones can feel more at peace and better prepared for the future. There are many free resources to help get started at sites like CaregiverStress.com and FiveWishes.org. If you no longer have immediate family or friends to have these conversations with, consider speaking with a professional caregiver about how you would like your future to look. Starting today can make for a smoother road ahead.