As the population ages, people become widowed and find themselves living alone, whether they choose to or not. With the advances in healthcare, technology, and increasing population — it is no surprise that more and more older adults are living longer, and in many cases, alone. According to the World Health Organization, people who identify as women live six to eight years longer than men, which may lead to more widowed spouses living on their own.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Should You By Yourself As You Age?
- Preventing Loneliness While Living Alone
- Staying Safe While Living Alone
- Prioritizing Health While Living By Yourself
Should You Live Alone As You Age?
There is no perfect fit for everyone. Weighing the pros and cons will help you decide what is best for you. Survey after survey shows that most older adults would rather age in place. Aging in place is possible, but living alone presents unique challenges.
Pros of living alone
For many adults regardless of age, independence is a marker of what it means to be an adult. It’s no surprise that that feeling continues on, regardless of your marital and/or social status.
When it comes to living alone, here are some of the positives that you tend to encounter:
- You have the freedom to do what you want when you want. You can eat your meals, watch TV, and go online according to your schedule.
- You can structure your activities to suit your lifestyle. Living alone allows you to pursue those social and recreational activities that are most important to you.
- Living alone gives you a sense of independence and autonomy.
Cons of living alone
However, with these advances and the ability to have increased independence, more people now tend to suffer from social isolation and loneliness at a higher pace than before. According to an article from The Conversation, 16 to 43 percent of adults ages 60 and older suffer from loneliness — which in turn, can cause negative health effects.
Here are some of the cons to be aware of when living alone:
- The risk of social isolation and loneliness is a significant concern.
- There is no one to take care of you when you get sick or disabled.
- Living alone leaves you without someone to talk to every day.
- You alone have to put forth the effort to stay engaged and connected.
- It may cost more to live alone without someone to share in the expenses.
Preventing Loneliness While Living Alone
As previously mentioned, loneliness is a serious health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loneliness can “increase a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.”
Finding ways to prevent loneliness can not only help with mental health goals, but also sharpen your long-term physical health as well. Read below for some tips to implement on combating loneliness.
1. Have a plan or schedule
Combating loneliness is like having a part-time job. Develop a plan with goals that you can follow every day. Try to make it as flexible as possible so you can make changes as you try things out.
Your plan can be written on a calendar, a sheet of paper, or scheduled on your phone.
2. Talk to someone every day
Talk to someone every day, whether it is a neighbor, a family member, or a friend. Communicating with others will help you to feel connected and less alone. If you can do it in person, great. But, if not, by phone or email can be good as well.
Living alone and not talking to people can lead to negative self-talk and feelings of worthlessness. Think of your effort to reach out as a way to support other people as well as yourself. Find out how someone is doing and feeling. Check on their family and health.
3. Learn technology
Learning technology might be very intimidating, but will be well worth the effort. If you have grandchildren, they will be more likely to stay in touch through social media and technology like Facetime.
Ask your children or grandchildren to teach you how to use a smartphone or tablet and set you up with social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram. These social networking services allow you to stay connected with friends and family who may live far from you. If you have security concerns, talk with someone who can help you put security controls in place. More and more families are relying on video conferencing options to see one another and visit.
Online support groups for older adults are a fantastic way to get and give support which is another good reason to learn how to use a computer or tablet.
Volunteering has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness. Even if you are unable to leave your home, there are volunteering opportunities.
Your local Area Agency on Aging will have resources to help you get started. In most cases, you can tailor a volunteer job to suit your schedule and interests.
5. Try new things
This tip is so important and can also be very hard to do. When you get older, you may have a well-formed (also known as “rigid”) set of expectations about what you like and don’t like.
However, it is important to remember that you have nothing to lose by trying something. It might not work out, but it may very well surprise you. Whether it is a hobby, a skill, or a social meeting, you might find a lifelong passion by trying new things.
If you are in senior housing, activities are an integral part of the community. Be brave and try some new pursuits.
6. Consider companion services
Companion services are available in two main ways. The first is through local community resources. Your Aging and Adult Services will direct you to those resources which may have qualifying criteria.
The second way is to hire a companion through an agency. This is more common than you might think. Even companion services a couple of hours a week can make a huge difference if you can afford it.
7. Try therapy
If you or your doctor suspect that you have depression or anxiety, consider teletherapy from the comfort of your home. If you have Medicare, rest assured that it helps to pay for weekly therapy sessions.
Ask your doctor or friends for referrals. Depression and anxiety are treatable conditions and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Staying Safe While Living Alone
Living alone has its own unique challenges when it comes to safety. Basic safety measures won’t prevent a crisis but will minimize the risk and also have the added benefit of helping you feel secure.
8. Advance care planning
Advance directives are a critical part of staying safe and secure. Without a health care surrogate, there is no one to advocate for you in a health crisis or to carry out your wishes if you are unable to.
The other part of advance planning is making sure your family has all of your health information. This includes physicians, a medication list, and medical conditions.
9. Reduce your fall risk
According to the National Council on Aging, “every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.” So, you can see the serious risk that falls present.
There are a few simple things you can do to minimize your risk. These include clearing away clutter, removing throw rugs, making sure you have adequate lighting, and having a medical check-up.
10. Get an Emergency Response System
An emergency response system (ERS) can literally be a lifesaver. If you fall and cannot call someone for help, an ERS will detect your fall and call 911.
There are lots of systems to choose from. Some even have GPS location services. Find the one that best suits your needs.
11. Don’t fall for scams
This can be a hard tip to follow, but it is very important. Unfortunately, scammers have proliferated and now target older adults who may be more vulnerable or uninformed.
It is important to remember that you should never give out your personal information online or on the phone. If it is someone pretending to be a loved one, reach out to other family members to double-check the legitimacy of this request. In the event that a utility is calling, make sure to call on your own to check in about appointments and take notes if you can.
Though it may sound tiring, remember that even the savviest of consumers are fooled. Also, don’t fall for “romantic” overtures online. Before getting involved make sure you thoroughly vet the person’s background.
12. Lock your doors and keep important documents safe
Locking doors seems obvious, but many people forget to do it. It is also recommended that you keep important and sensitive documents in a fireproof safe and in a secure online vault. It never hurts to have duplicates secured in multiple locations.
Make certain you tell family members where they can find your documents.
Prioritizing Health While Living By Yourself
Prioritizing health is the foundation of independence and well-being, something you need at any time but especially living alone. Healthy aging is successful aging.
13. Stay on top of medical issues
It is recommended that you get yearly medical check-ups and keep up with preventative health.
Ask your physician if there are lifestyle changes you can make instead of additional medications. Telehealth is becoming more and more popular which means you don’t have to leave home to have a consultation with your physician.
14. Increase your activity
Activity has significant health benefits from lower blood pressure, better mobility, and improved mood.
Talk to your doctor about how to safely increase your activity. Walking, gardening, stretching and chair exercises are all excellent options. As the adage goes, if you use it, you won’t lose it.
15. Be mindful of your diet
Living alone can lead to unhealthy dietary habits. Focusing on a plant-based and non-processed diet is a good start, but check with your physician to see if there are any nutritional precautions.
They will also help you be on the lookout for any foods that may interfere with any medications you are already taking.
16. Mental health is important too
No matter your age, it is important to pay attention to your mental health. Mental health problems like depression and anxiety can affect anyone.
Left untreated, they can get worse. Talk with your doctor about medications and therapy to treat these common problems.
Older Adults Living Alone
Older adults can and are living alone successfully. Like anything else in life, preparation is the foundation of that success. Our suggestions will give you the tools you need to be happy and healthy.
- “Female Life Expectancy.” The World Health Organization. www.who.int/gho/women_and_health/mortality/situation_trends_life_expectancy/en/
- “Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html#:~:text=Older%20adults%20are%20at%20increased,the%20amount%20of%20social%20contac
- “Falls Prevention Facts.” National Council on Aging, www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/falls-prevention-facts/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20U.S.%20Centers,adult%20dies%20from%20a%20fall.
- “Fall Prevention: Simple Tips to Prevent Falls.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/fall-prevention/art-20047358
- “Nutrition for Older Persons.” World Health Organization, www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ageing/en/index1.html