Flying Solo? Consider a Co-Pilot!
Over twelve million American adults over the age of 65 live alone. As the baby boomers age, the number of these solo agers will continue to trend upward. An estimated 19% of women from the boomer age never gave birth, meaning that there are no direct family members to rely on for caregiving or health care advocacy. Changes in societal family dynamics, women’s more active roles in work life and smaller sized families living more geographically apart have led to a very different support structure for older adults today. Solo agers, just like the older population in general, want to maintain their cognitive and physical health, preserve their independence, and have adequate financial resources to age in place. However, they also have special concerns unique to their situation. They worry about being alone and vulnerable if they have a serious health issue, being moved to an alternate living situation against their will or having no one to advocate on their behalf if they lose their decision-making capacity.
Many solo agers have not adequately saved for their retirement or purchased a long-term care policy, and so may at higher risk for aging in poverty. Like many older adults, they recognize that having an advanced directive is important, but put off appointing a health care proxy or making their end-of-life wishes known. Only about half of all solo agers have created a will or trust and only about a third have made any arrangement for their funeral or burial. Like many older Americans, solo agers want to age in place in their own homes, but many have made no environmental modifications to make their home a safer place or have considered downsizing to a safer home. For many solo agers, friendships and over reliance on neighbors fill the gap. Many rely on a patchwork of phone calls, text messages, and social media to stay in touch with loved ones. Even if there is an informal network, successful solo agers often outlive their friends who may be of a similar age leaving a shrinking pool of support. Older men in particular have a smaller network of friends than women and have higher rates of social isolation.
Despite these obstacles solo agers are generally optimistic about the future, revealing an emotional disconnect. For this optimistic view on aging to be closer to reality, solo agers need to engage in proactive planning while they are still independent, healthy, and cognitively intact. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure” applies here. Doing a deep dive on goals for aging and making a realistic plan on how they can be accomplished will position solo agers for a brighter future. Planning should include categorizing assets and expenses and creating a realistic budget, researching local community resources, and examining care and housing options that are available and affordable once health conditions are more fragile. Assembling a team of experts who can advise on wise aging strategies is often well worth the investment and can hold procrastinators accountable. Here are some valuable resources for solo agers to review and consider as they chart their future course:
Aging Life Care Professionals: Professional experts in the aging life care field who are licensed and credentialed and are a sounding board, supporter, health advocate, emergency contact and benefit navigator (www.aginglifecare.org)
Elder Care and Trust & Estate Lawyers: legal professionals who can assist with trust and estate planning, power of attorney appointments and living wills (https://www.naela.org/findlawyer) (https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/trusts-estates-law/overview)
Primary Medical Doctors/ Gerontologists/ Advanced Practice Nurses – who can explain and assist with completing advanced directives forms like a Health Care Proxy (https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/1430.pdf), Medical Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) (health.ny.gov/professionals/patients/patient_rights/molst/) or Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) forms https://www.health.ny.gov/forms/doh-3474.pdf).
Continuing Care Communities (CCRC’s): housing in a community and aging in place surrounded by like-minded others with assurance of care for the rest of their lives. Requires a buy-in fee. (https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2017/continuing-care-retirement-communities.html)
Independent Living communities: For active adults who may want to downsize to a home in a retirement community but are living independently. (https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/housing-options-for-seniors)
Assisted Living: Housing in a supportive, social community that provides help with daily activities (https://www.consumerreports.org/elder-care/choosing-the-right-assisted-living-community/)
Memory care: structured housing and care for those with significant cognitive or memory impairment (https://www.alzheimers.net/2014-04-24-questions-to-ask-about-memory-care)