This article appears in the Winter Boomers magazine.
The number of adults living on their own is on the rise. A 25-year study from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University found that 13.4 percent of the adult population were living alone and the majority were women 55 and older.
The age pattern of women living alone has remained stable over the past 25 years, while the percentage of male older adults increased from 33 percent to 48 percent.
“The most surprising finding to me is that living alone is on the rise among middle-aged adults,” said Susan L. Brown, professor of sociology and co-director of the NCFMR. “I think this reflects the growth in gray divorce (divorce for people older than 50) and the small but increasing share of midlife adults who have never been married.”
The lifestyle comes with challenges, but they can be met by planning in advance.
Living alone is expensive
“Individuals forgo the economies of scale that come from living with others. In addition to possible economic challenges in terms of being able to afford to live alone, as people age it can become more difficult to live independently without occasional help with tasks of daily living,” Brown said.
Loneliness and isolation
“The biggest challenges facing older adults living on their own are loneliness and isolation, which impact health, well-being and quality of life,” said Jenny Werwa, spokeswoman for the National Aging in Place Council. “Trips out of the house are not as simple as they used to be — maybe because the car keys were relinquished years ago or the steps outside the front door are too hard to climb — and that makes the social interactions people used to enjoy fewer and far between. Limited financial resources might also be preventing seniors from comfortably going out and doing the things they once loved to do.”
Aging in place
There’s a saying about the strength of weak ties, said Sarah Szanton, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing professor and associate director for policy at the Center on Innovative Care in Aging. Family is a strong tie, but neighbors, church friends and the people at the grocery store “are a broad and deep network” that influence people to age in place.
“It can often be the right decision. People do usually want to age in place,” Szanton said.
What can families do
“If you or someone you love might be lonely, plan a visit or look for resources that can facilitate a trip out,” Werwa said. “Transportation services and rideshare groups offer discounts to older adults, and senior centers offer free social gatherings and activities. When people are thinking ahead about staying in their homes, instead of in a group facility, it’s important to anticipate their potential needs as they get older, including transportation, health, finances and entertainment.”
Planning ahead makes living alone work, said Ted Reed, former board chairman and current board member of Friends Center City in Philadelphia.
“When you need help, how are you going to access it? People need to figure out how to handle a crisis and who you can trust,” Reed said. This is especially true if adult children don’t live nearby.
The National Aging in Place Council offers a workbook, the Act III template, to help plan ahead. Visit ageinplace.org.