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?
- What Are the Main Reasons Aging Adults Live Alone?
- Preventing Loneliness While Living Alone
- Staying Safe While Living Alone
- Prioritizing Health While Living By Yourself
- Where Can Aging Adults Get Help While Living Alone?
- How Can Children Help Their Parents Successfully Live Alone?
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.
What Are the Main Reasons Aging Adults Live Alone?
As you can probably guess, there are many reasons aging adults live alone- some are intentional, and others are not. Let’s look at some of the reasons aging adults live alone.
In other countries, older adults are much more likely to live with their family. According to the Pew Research Center, “In the U.S., 27 percent of adults ages 60 and older live alone, compared with 16 percent of adults in the 130 countries and territories.” Within the U.S., independence is highly valued and is a significant reason why older adults choose to love alone. Outside of the U.S., it is much more common for several generations to live together.
Some people simply prefer to live alone. For others, they form a relationship called “living apart together.” Older couples in committed relationships are living in separate residences by choice. For some, they never live together, and for others, one person might be widowed and isn’t ready (now or ever) to live in the same household with a new partner.
Death of a spouse
The death of a spouse may be one of the more common reasons for someone living alone. For couples who have been together for many years, it can be challenging to think about moving in with kids or forming a new relationship.
As with the death of a spouse, divorce late in life can leave one partner alone and not willing or able to live with anyone else.
No children or other family
If they have no children or other family a single or widowed person may prefer to live alone.
Unable to make other arrangements
As people age, they may become more impaired, either mentally or physically, or both. The more time that goes by, the more challenging it becomes to handle the stress of a move. Everything from choosing to live with someone else, making the financial arrangements and the physical impact of the move itself is too hard.
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.
Also try celebrating this time in your life, such as by participating in National Senior Citizens Day!
Where Can Aging Adults Get Help While Living Alone?
To combat and prevent social isolation and loneliness, accessing resources can help aging adults live alone. Social connection, mental stimulation, and pursuing one’s passions are possible with the effort to make it happen. These resources can help.
AARP pretty much has it all. Blogs, educational pieces, videos, and lots of local virtual and live events. AARP is also always looking for dedicated volunteers to help with their activities, advocacy work, and Driver Safety and Tax Aid programs.
Road Scholar started in 1975 with the idea of providing educational opportunities for aging adults at college campuses across the country. Today they offer over 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and all 50 states. Road Scholar has a vast array of trips with varying activity levels from very low activity to very high with hikes at altitude in mountainous countries.
Meetup is a simple but brilliant idea that brings people of similar interests together. You can join or start a group based on almost any activity. There are social groups, hiking or walking, and other sports groups. Nearly every area of interest is represented, and if it isn’t, you can start your own group. Some of the groups are for singles only.
Facebook groups are a way for individuals or families to connect outside the general area of Facebook. Groups are organized by interest, political affiliation, or family connection. You can form a group or join an existing one.
Area Agencies on Aging
Your Area Agency on Aging is the portal to federal and state agencies that provide assistance and services to older adults. Programs vary by locale, but the Area Agencies on Aging are a great resource.
Many know GoGoGrandparent as the convenient way to order transportation through Uber or Lyft, but they do so much more. Not only can you call for rides, but you can also order grocery and pharmacy delivery, meals, and request home chore services.
Emergency Response Systems
Emergency Response Systems (ERS) save lives. The availability and sophistication of ERS have grown significantly over the last few years. Most have fall detection and GPS systems, but if you don’t like the idea of a pendant, you could try the Apple 4 (or later) watch series that has fall detection and will automatically call 911 if you are immobile for more than a minute.
We include the category technology because it is a critical part of living alone and staying connected. Many older adults fear technology because it can be a steep learning curve, but it will be worth it.
The basic first step to stay connected is to have a laptop or Ipad. Pretty much every resource we list requires access to the internet. Beyond that, communicating via various other video platforms and websites will keep you interested, mentally engaged, and socially connected. Having a smartphone is another great tool.
In-home care may not be something you need now, but you might in the future. Unless you have a long-term care policy and meet its criteria, in-home care will be private pay, but there are many benefits. In-home care is very flexible, and caregivers can provide as little or as much help as you need. Assistance with dressing, bathing, companionship, transportation, and cooking are just a few of the tasks caregivers can provide.
How Can Children Help Their Parents Successfully Live Alone?
As the adult child of a parent living alone, you may feel overwhelmed by the best way to support them. Whether your parent has been living alone for a while or this is a new situation, these steps will help their experience be successful.
If you haven’t prepared advance directives, now is the time to do it. Talk with your parent about healthcare and financial power of attorney should they become unable to manage themselves independently. Having the legal authority to advocate for your parent will be necessary to assist them as they age.
Assess home safety
Living alone safely should be a critical part of your involvement. You can’t prevent every accident, but you can take steps to reduce the likelihood of falls and other accidents. Home safety should include eliminating clutter, making sure there are grab bars and other accessibility features, and that all systems are safe and up to date. If your parent is still living in their home, you could hire a home inspector to identify any hazards or current and potential maintenance issues.
If your parent is mismanaging their medications, there could be serious medical consequences. Take the first step of evaluating the medication list and reconciling the list with what they are taking. Go through the medicine cabinet and eliminate discontinued or expired medications.
Next, if your parent needs help organizing their medications, there are scores of systems to dispense medications depending on the need. Check frequently to make sure the system you set up is working.
Consider hiring a geriatric care manager
If you live at a distance from your parent and there are no other family members close by, a geriatric care manager (GCM) can offer support and supervision. A GCM can schedule regular visits to assess the home’s condition and how your parent is functioning. A GCM can make recommendations, hire needed help and manage the services.
Visiting often may seem obvious, but you are busy, and visits can sometimes be neglected. Your parent wants to see you and any other family members, probably much more often than you realize.
There are a couple of different ways to fit visits into your busy life. The first is to schedule visits ahead of time-perhaps once a week. If you don’t live close and can’t visit in person, try using video conferencing platforms for a more personal connection. If your parent doesn’t know how to access this type of technology, consider hiring someone to teach them. The other advantage of learning how to use video conferencing is access to telemedicine services.
Encourage activity, both physical and social
You may have to tread lightly on this one since your parent doesn’t want to feel micromanaged! Encourage your parent to stay involved to the extent that they are able. Hiring in-home care can be a great way to reinforce good health habits and keep your parent engaged.
Discuss other living alone options
If your parent is living alone in their home, consider other senior housing options that still allow for living alone but with social connection. More and more active senior adult communities and apartment complexes are offering rentals rather than buying. Renting eliminates the headaches of homeownership but has the benefit of social connection, activities, and other services.
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. who.int
- “Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov
- “Falls Prevention Facts.” National Council on Aging, ncoa.org
- “Fall Prevention: Simple Tips to Prevent Falls.” Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.org
- “Nutrition for Older Persons.” World Health Organization, who.int