Experts in the longevity field tell us that living alone doesn’t support optimal health. If we’re smart, the experts say, we will find like-minded peers to form friendships and support. And it's the close ties that will keep us to feel strong and resilient.
Today’s 17 million people are “solo agers.” We’ve created a demographic that is unprecedented in American history. And that number triples for the world. It was declared that the aging alone segment to be a hidden tsunami by the U.S. Joint Economic Committee, “Older age is a time of life when people often need to rely on family, friends, and other social relationships for care they no longer can do for themselves. If an elderly adult lacks those relationships, however, they may have to lean more heavily on paid professional care, potentially leading to a lower quality of life and higher costs for families and government.”
In research, academic scientists found that older adults are less likely to have a relative living nearby. The share of retiring adults with a relative in their neighborhood (outside their home) fell from 34 percent in 1994 to 22 percent in 2014. And the data predicts the number to continue to rise well into the next decade and beyond.
The lifestyle challenges
Retirement and older age will look much different for baby boomers than it did for our parents and grandparents. We’ve been caught in the transition from institutional responsibility for retirement security to an increasing amount of individual responsibility. Such as:
-- Pensions are largely a thing of the past, which means many of us are responsible for our own preparedness. It’s best to start planning and saving for retirement early on. But if you have not, think about working part-time to add more money to the savings account.
-- If we don’t have offspring to rely on, you will need to find friends or like-minded peers for medical rides, help at home when ill, do wellness checks, and simply lend an ear when life gets tough. Single adults, even married ones, have learned that a close social support system is the next best thing to family.
-- Choose to live in an Independent or Assisted Living community, or CCRCs for the sake of having nearby assistance and built-in activities. Before moving, make sure the lifestyle fits your preferences and the monthly expenses won’t drain the budget.
-- Check out co-housing developments, tiny house villages, or sharing (renting out) your home to tenants or roommates. This is a popular option since it gives homeowners and renters more freedom and keeps them connected with the larger community.
There are a million things to plan but this week’s column addresses the options for housing and ways to create support and help. The next column will talk about other issues to plan for.
Carol Marak, aging advocate, and editor at Seniorcare.com. She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.