How to Create a Support System
Aging in place is no longer news, but what’s been underreported is how to age solo: without a spouse/partner, children, caregiver, or other relative or companion living with you.
It’s especially challenging for men who lose their life partner; for many, it may be the first time in their lives they’re living alone, which can be a daunting undertaking in one’s seventies, eighties or nineties. Hal Spielman recognized the need for a support system when his own wife died, and launched Suddenly Solo: A Lifestyle Road Map for the Mature Widowed or Divorced Man, in his eighties.
But the issue of aging alone goes beyond widowhood or divorce. A study published in The Gerontologist found that about one-third of 45- to 63-year-olds are single, a whopping 50 percent increase since 1980 — and most of those have never married. Single, childless “elder orphans” are more vulnerable economically, socially and physically than their connected counterparts. Lonely and socially isolated seniors are more likely to experience cognitive decline, and to develop mobility issues, heart disease, and other health problems, the study found.
Seniors can create solutions to solo aging, however. The key, as with considering whether and when to apply for a reverse mortgage, is refusing to be an ostrich about growing older, and choosing to plan ahead.
Here are several solo aging tips to share with your reverse mortgage clients, prospects, and any other seniors you know who could benefit from greater support in their lives:
- Prepare early to live independently. One woman has been active for over thirty-five years in a multi-generational women’s group whose members pledged to care for one another as they grow old. She joined the group when she was thirty-three. Now 70, retired and active in her community, she counts her women’s network as a lifelong tonic. The friendships the women have woven over the years have sustained group members through numerous personal life crises as well as celebrations.
- Consider relocating. College towns can be ideal for retirees, because they’re usually walkable, and often provide good public transportation as well as affordable dining and recreation — not to mention a built-in source of potential assistance. There are also a growing number of communities that offer a plethora of technology-assisted living resources, from transportation to yard care, grocery delivery to home care.
- Hire (or start to interview) a Personal Assistant. An elder may not need a caregiver now — maybe ever — but an on-call assistant might be just the ticket to change those hard-to-reach lightbulbs, be an extra set of ears at doctor’s appointments, or to cart home and shelve a load of groceries. A long-term care advocate outlines some simple, smart steps for choosing a caregiver — rebranded as a “personal assistant” — that a senior can rely on for the long haul. An elder law attorney provides a more formal set of criteria for choosing a caregiver when this level of care becomes necessary.
- Practice resilience. Eating well, exercising, keeping your brain sharp and continuing to learn all go a long way towards making solo aging less lonely. Reaching out to others across the age spectrum is also a smart move. Isolation is not confined to the senior set, and a young person struggling with major life decisions may welcome a senior’s wisdom and experience. Bonus: both may make a new friend in the bargain.
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