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Information about the author of this post.
tlwe223's picture Terri Weber, MSW, CSW
Elder Care Specialist
College or Department
Work-Life
Phone Number
(859) 218-0457
Email Address
terri.weber@uky.edu

Many of us will be alone in our later years. We may have never married or married with no children, be divorced or widowed. We may have outlived or be estranged from our families. No matter the circumstance, aging alone requires a different set of resources and a different mental set than aging with an established supportive network.

Impact of aging alone

According to the National Institute on Aging, more and more seniors are aging alone. This can make us more vulnerable to the negative effects of aging compared to older adults who have a support system in place. Changes to our physical condition and mobility can create the negative effect of feeling alone, and loneliness can take a toll on our physical, mental and emotional health.

Loneliness acts on the body in a way similar to chronic stress. It raises the levels of stress hormones, which impairs immune responses and contributes to inflammation, mental illness and conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Feelings of loneliness can increase the risk of chronic disease, depression, dementia and death.

Those aging alone can experience premature placement in a long-term care facility, overuse of emergency services, and greater risk of elder abuse, fraud, and scams.  

How to plan ahead

There are things we can do to be proactive to reduce the risks involved in aging alone and becoming isolated. We need to make plans while we are still able to have a say in how we want to live out our lives. We need to set up a safety net.
 
Prepare your legal documents

  • Do you have a durable power of attorney? A document that authorizes another person to handle your affairs, such as health care or financial, should you become incapacitated.
  • Have you assigned someone to be your health care surrogate? A trusted family member or friend who can make health care decisions for you when you are unable. Don’t shy away from having an open and honest conversation about what you want and don’t want for your care.
  • Do you have an advanced directive? A legal document that gives instruction for your health care in the event you are no longer able to make or communicate those decisions yourself.
  • Do you have a will? No matter how little or how much you have, a will ensures whatever personal belongings and/or assets you have will go to the beneficiaries you designate.                

Decide where you want to live

If you want to stay in your home, ask yourself these questions: Do you feel safe in your neighborhood? Do you know your neighbors? Do you feel a sense of community? When you are no longer able to drive, how will you get to the store, medical appointments or social functions? Would you consider moving to be closer to family, friends and/or resources?

There are more options including:

  • Senior living community — a developed community where the feel, layout and amenities are designed to meet different levels of care at different price points. These communities vary greatly and range from subsidized low income to more expensive private pay facilities; from independent living to skilled nursing care.
  • A continuing care retirement community offers all the above levels of care and the bonus of being able to live within the same community throughout your life.
  • Shared living — Think “The Golden Girls.” It’s a living arrangement between two or more people who choose to live together to take advantage of the mutual benefits living together can offer — companionship, cost savings and a feeling of security.
  • Communal — Think the 1960s and 1970s. A community of people living together and sharing property, possessions and resources.
  • Co-housing — This is an intentional neighborhood of individually owned homes/condos clustered around shared space. The thing that differentiates co-housing from a regular community is the commitment to being part of the neighborhood for everyone’s mutual benefit. Shared common values are present among the people living there. 

Consider working with a geriatric care manager
A geriatric care manager helps seniors with long-term care planning and arrangements. They can put together a comprehensive plan for both your present and future needs — household chores, managing medications, transportation for shopping and appointments, meal preparation, handling finances, etc. A geriatric care manager allows you to continue to live in your home for as long as possible and will help navigate different care options when needed. They can follow you through all of life’s transitions.
 
Develop a social network
Look at your circle of friends. Having friends of all ages has several advantages. Not only will you be introduced to new ideas and different views on life, but you will also be able to lean on the younger ones when challenges come along. Sometimes it’s hard to make new friends as we age; consider volunteering, joining a club or taking a class.
 
Incorporate technology
Technology helps us facilitate independence and stay connected to the outside world. For seniors, smart technology such as sensors, voice activation, GPS and smartphone monitoring apps make aging in place easier.

Reading up on product reviews before purchasing an item can helpful.  

 Being alone in our later years is a possibility for all of us. But with the right preparation and some proactive measures we can alleviate many of the risks associated with isolation and loneliness.
 
Stay well, stay connected,
 
Terri