As most of us contemplate growing older, we expect to have our spouse and supportive family members alongside us on the journey. As we often say here at AgingOptions, “Aging is a family affair.” However, for millions of seniors, their experience will be quite different: for a variety of reasons these men and women are aging on their own. The nickname for this group is “solo agers,” and they’re going to need some special planning skills in order to ensure they can age safely and enjoy life on their terms.
Solo Agers Face a Host of Risks As They Enter Retirement
This important topic, which we’ve written and spoken about before, was brought back to our attention as we read this NerdWallet column by Liz Weston. “Many people won’t have children to look after them as they age, either because they didn’t have kids or the ones they have aren’t available or reliable,” Weston writes. “Without that help, they face greater risks of isolation, financial exploitation, malnutrition and other ills.” Adult children play many critical roles in the life of an aging parent, roles that for single and childless boomers will have to be filled by someone else. “Who will let them know when it’s time to stop driving?” asks Weston. “Who will notice signs of physical or cognitive decline and find appropriate help? Who will pay their bills, vet their financial advisors and monitor their bank accounts? Who will hire and supervise caretakers or research nursing facilities when they can no longer care for themselves,” since it’s often the adult children pushing the move into long-term care?
Weston says these are “hard but necessary” questions as baby boomers retire. As younger boomers were settling down and launching their careers, the rate of childlessness gradually increased: in 1986, when the oldest cadre of female boomers reached their early 40s, about 12 percent were childless. By 2005 as the last wave of boomers hit that age group, the rate of childlessness had reached 20 percent, according to Pew Research Center figures cited by NerdWallet. That translates into millions of solo agers today.
Solo Agers Can Include Divorced, Separated, and Never-Married Seniors
According to 2010 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 39 million Americans 65 and older live alone. That includes about 19 percent of all men in that age group (more than 3 million) and more than a third of all 65-plus women (nearly 8 million). Many of these do so by choice and, as long as they stay healthy, they are able to enjoy the solo lifestyle. But a significant percentage have no other options: they are widowed (nearly 3 in 10) or divorced or separated (about 6 percent), and a relatively small number – roughly 5 percent of all 65-plus citizens – never married. “While living alone may be considered desirable by some older people because of the independence it offers,” the Census Bureau reports, “older people living alone are more vulnerable due to limited resources, difficult living situations, and a lack of support.” Other research cited by the Census Bureau shows that those living alone “are also more likely to suffer from poor health and to experience depression, especially women aged 85 and over.”
As one expert on this age group told NerdWallet, “[Solo agers] need to be thinking about how to stay safe and happy and satisfied with their life and connected throughout their life.” The Liz Weston article offers three top priorities for seniors facing retirement alone to consider.
Solo Agers Need to Build Community, Choose Where to Live, Enlist Caregivers
- Step 1: Build a community. “People who don’t expand their social networks can find themselves isolated and lonely as friends die or move closer to their grandkids,” Weston warns. That makes it important for solo agers to connect (or reconnect) with relatives and friends. Even a network of more casual relationships – neighbors, coffee shop buddies and other acquaintances – can make a big difference in how happy and well-connected a person feels. The essential thing is to avoid isolation.
- Step 2: Choose your home carefully. We often talk about aging in place, and usually focus on whether or not one’s home is a safe place to grow old. But what about staying connected? “Your current home may not be the ideal place to grow older, especially if you won’t have many opportunities to socialize after you stop driving,” says Weston. Senior housing communities may be a good solution but they often come with a high price tag. Finding the right place to live – in a neighborhood village, a condo, or shared housing – will require that you do your homework now, while you’re still healthy and able to make a move. (Depending on your income, if you live in Western Washington State, you may qualify for one of the 25 apartment communities operated by SHAG – a 30-year-old non-profit that builds and operates apartments for low- and moderate-income seniors. SHAG stands for Sustainable Housing for Ageless Generations.)
- Step 3: Choose your future guardians. Knowing who will make legal and medical decisions on your behalf is crucial: without proper planning, “solo agers could become wards of the court with strangers making decisions for them,” says Finding someone trustworthy to act as your power of attorney can be a challenge if you have no reliable family members. If you’re in this situation we suggest you call us so we can have the experts at LifePoint Law help you make appropriate decisions.
Solo Agers – and All Seniors – Need to Replace Procrastination with Planning
“The biggest problem…for solo agers and all baby boomers is the denial” of what aging can bring, NerdWallet states. “Open your eyes, do some planning.” We agree – which is why we hope you’ll accept Rajiv Nagaich’s invitation to attend a free seminar that will introduce you to a concept we call LifePlanning. “Most so-called retirement planning is just plain inadequate,” says Rajiv. “People make the mistake of thinking that a simple will and a basic financial plan is all they need in retirement – but they are sadly mistaken. One health care episode or other crisis will blow their plan out of the water.” A LifePlan from AgingOptions is the only retirement plan we know of that combines financial considerations, legal concerns, medical coverage, family communication and a housing plan into one carefully-crafted strategy in which all the components of retirement actually work together. With a LifePlan in place you can face your retirement future with true confidence and peace of mind.
We offer LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the Puget Sound area. The only cost is a few hours of your time – but we’re confident you’ll be extremely glad you came. You’ll find a calendar of upcoming seminars, along with online registration, here on our Live Events page. Whether you’re aging solo or not, LifePlanning is your answer to creating the retirement you’ve hoped for. Age on!
(originally reported at www.nerdwallet.com)