9 Things You Need to Know About Aging Alone

July 31, 2019

When we're young, we all tend to have big hopes and dreams for how our lives will end up when we reach our golden years. But whether it's thoughts of being surrounded by all of your children and grandchildren or just aging alongside a few close friends, unfortunately, life doesn't always turn out the way we'd hope.

Sometimes the dreams of marriage and kids don't work out, and sadly, not everyone you befriend in your youth remains a lifelong companion. People move, people die, and circumstances change. And when these things happen, some of us may end up edging into our elder years without a core support system.

It's not uncommon for people to end up on their own when they reach the standard "senior" age of 65 or more. But that's why it's so important to understand what aging alone looks like and how you can navigate the world on your own.

If you or a loved one are in a situation where there are few or no people around you to assist you as you age, these nine key facts can help you understand how to make the most out of it. Ensure you are looked after even if you don't have close friends or family to help out when you need it by understanding what it's like to age alone.

#1: Many people over the age of 65 are considered "elder orphans"

An elder orphan is someone who enters seniorhood without spouses, children, grandchildren, or a close support system to help them with their needs as they age. These people do not have the support or assistance required to help them should any health issues arise.

Elder orphans live alone and do not have regular social interactions or visits from close friends or family. Should they require assistance, they are generally not equipped to take care of themselves if long-term care is needed.

According to a 2016 study, approximately 22% of Americans over the age of 65 meet the criteria to be considered an elder orphan.

#2: Necessities become hard to access when living alone as a senior

In another study conducted by SeniorCare.com in which they polled over 500 members of an elder orphan Facebook group, staggering numbers were found showcasing just how hard it is for seniors to access primary care without assistance.

Only 50 percent of those studied stated they had reliable access to transportation should they need it, while 78 percent say they don't have assistance with their finances. 55 percent do not have anyone to consult regarding critical medical decisions, and 70 percent say they do not have anyone they could call to assist with caring for them if needed.

However, despite these daunting numbers, 49 percent of those studied state they would still prefer to stay in their current home over relocating to a senior-centric community or moving to a retirement home to assist with their needs. This number shows just how vital a built-in support system is for those who either choose or end up living alone.

#3: There are 40 cities across the US considered to be the best places for seniors living alone

The Milken Institute's 2017 study identified the top places for seniors to live across the US to find success as they age. The study included 83 indicative criteria to help determine the best large and small cities for seniors. The results are shown below:

Top 20 Large Cities

Top 20 Small Cities

Provo, UT

Iowa City, IA

Madison, WI

Manhattan, KS

Durham, NC

Ames, IA

Salt Lake City, UT

Columbia, MO

Des Moines, IA

Sioux Falls, SD

Austin, TX

Ann Arbor, MI

Omaha, NE

Ithaca, NY

Jackson, MS

Lawrence, KS

Boston, NH

Logan, UT

San Francisco, CA

Fairbanks, AK

New York City, NY

Boulder, CO

Denver, CO

Champaign, IL

Toledo, OH

Gainesville, FL

Minneapolis, WI

Fargo, ND

Springfield, MS

Midland, TX

San Jose, CA

State College, PA

Rochester, NY

Cheyenne, WY

Stamford, CN

Morgantown, WV

Washington, DC

Lubbock, TX

Syracuse, NY

Burlington, VT

#4: There are 5 stages of aging alone

According to research compiled by Carol Marak, there are five definitive stages of aging.

The first stage is the Independent Stage, where seniors are considered to be self-sufficient and generally capable of taking care of themselves.

The second stage, the Interdependence Stage, is where seniors may find themselves needing help with basic tasks, like cleaning, yard maintenance, chores, and other physical labour.

The Dependence Stage — the third stage — is where a senior requires constant care and attention. Tasks like getting dressed, cooking, bathing, and driving are all no longer manageable on their own and require more consistent assistance to complete.

The penultimate stage is Crisis Management. This where a senior may find themselves in need of additional care from medical professionals for issues pertaining to their physical and mental health.

The final stage is Institutional Care. In this stage, seniors would no longer be able to live on their own and require around the clock care at a nursing home or hospice.

#5: Staying in your home is often more costly than moving

When it comes down to it, most people want to stay in their own home for as long as they're able to. But costs can quickly add up when you think about having to pay for services you can no longer do yourself.

If you're no longer able to do all the work required to maintain your house yourself, you can always look into hiring people to help you. But when you break it down, you may need — at a minimum — a landscaper, a housekeeper, a maintenance technician, a cook, a driver, and maybe even a dog walker. Though individually these costs are likely manageable, when combined, it can take a toll on your finances, especially if you also need medical assistance from an in-home caregiver or nurse.

Though leaving home is often the last resort for many, it can end up saving you money when you think about how going to a retirement home eliminates all of those overhead costs and responsibilities.

#6: Making your end of life decisions known should be a top priority

If you have a stable support system around you, the decision of who to assign as your power of attorney is likely simple. Your spouse, child, or maybe even grandchild will likely have your best interest at heart. You've also likely discussed with them in advance how you would like things to go given certain circumstances.

But what if you are one of the elder orphans who doesn't have someone close by you can discuss this with? Not making your end of life plans known, means that in the event of an incident where you cannot voice your opinion, the doctors will be making decisions for you; decisions that you may or may not agree with and could end up altering the way you live the rest of your life.

If you are in a situation where you do not have someone to discuss this with or feel comfortable having as your power of attorney, the best thing to do to ensure your end of life plans are made apparent is to hire an estate attorney. They will help you build and document your will and advanced directives so there is no question as to your desires towards your care.

#7: Having a professional care network is critical

Even if you've lived most of your life only going to doctors when things were dire, as you age, building up a reliable professional care team around you is incredibly important. As you age, your body breaks down and will require more regular medical checkups, screenings, and intervention.

To ensure your best health, find yourself a quality family doctor or medical professional team to help monitor and assist you with any issues that may arise in regards to your health. Having this support system in place will allow you to understand better the care you may need and the conditions in which you should live.

#8: Follow the Buddy System

Even if you are comfortable operating on your own, it's always good to have at least one person you can count on in case you need help. Whether it's just needing someone to drive you to and from appointments or popping in on you from time to time to see how you're doing, it's always good to have someone you can reach out to.

As an orphaned elder, it may seem like a challenge to find someone to assist you, but there are easy ways to find someone if you need it. By befriending a neighbour or finding a companion through local services, or even online, you can rest easy knowing that someone out there is there to help you with whatever you may need.

#9: Hiring someone to help in your home is a great alternative to leaving home

Though we mentioned earlier that sometimes leaving your home is a cheaper option, depending on what type of care and assistance you require, you may also want to look into hiring someone to help you.

If you have basic medical needs or just want some companionship, hiring someone to help out is always an option. Though the cost of hiring care can be a determining factor, if you are in a position where you need some assistance, hiring someone — even on a part-time basis — can often be the best way to stay in your home.

If you are looking for assistance, ElderCare.com has a wide variety of caregivers available, ranging from basic companionship to registered nurses.