9 Ways Solo Agers Can Create a Care Plan that Really Works

In last month’s article, Building an Aging Alone
I pointed out that living alone as we get older doesn’t support optimal health.
And, if we’re smart, we’re building a strategy to create support and close

Another common theme for older adults
living at a distance from family is “Who will care for me if I need help?” It’s
the question I asked myself many years ago after helping my parents with elder
care needs.

When Mom’s health declined, and Dad
was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my sisters and I stepped in to help. I have no
daughter or son to do the same for me, nor do many other older adults, and it’s
why we must create strategies that replace family caregivers.

An Unusual Demographic

Today’s 17 million “solo agers” are
already creating a demographic that is unprecedented in American history. And
that number triples for the world. It was declared that the aging alone segment
would be a hidden tsunami.

“Older age is a time of life when
people often need to rely on family, friends, and other social relationships
for care they no longer can do for themselves. If an elderly adult lacks those
relationships, however, they may have to lean more heavily on paid professional
care, potentially leading to a lower quality of life and higher costs for
families and government.”

In research, academic scientists found
that older adults are less likely to have a
relative living nearby
The share of retiring adults with a relative in their neighborhood (outside
their home) fell from 34 percent in 1994 to 22 percent in 2014. And the data
predicts the number will continue to rise well into the next decade and beyond.

Giving care to an older adult requires
a lot of time and energy. The tasks my parents needed were my wake-up call as
to why I needed a caregiving plan and why I encourage others at risk of aging
alone to have one as well.

You and I simply cannot afford to
ignore planning for the long-term because facing the challenges alone will put
you in uncompromising situations.

The Challenges Adults Face
without Nearby Family

Retirement and older age will look
much different for baby boomers than it did for our parents and grandparents.
We’ve been caught in the transition from institutional responsibility for
retirement security to an increasing amount of individual responsibility.

Pensions are largely a thing of the
past, which means many of us are responsible for our own preparedness.

A Support Team

If a person does not have offspring to
rely on, chances are they will have to pay for care when needed, and since it’s
costly, my advice is to create a close knit group of peers who will share the

The personal support team offers one
another medical rides, help at home when ill, wellness checks, and simply lending
an ear when life gets tough. These are some of the biggest challenges an older
adult lives with.

Living Communities

About 30 percent of solo agers prefer
a supportive lifestyle like moving to an Independent and Assisted Living
community, or CCRCs for the sake of having nearby assistance and built-in

Recently, I contacted close to 20 life
care communities and they reported nearly 30 percent of the residents to be
solo agers. Before moving into one, make sure the lifestyle fits your
preferences and the monthly expenses won’t drain the budget.

Co-Housing Options

However, other shared lifestyles are
cranking up. Co-housing developments, tiny house villages, and sharing our
homes with roommates are growing rapidly in interest. Those who prefer this over
senior housing do so because they feel more freedom and connectedness with the
larger community.

When choosing this style of housing,
make sure you have the ability to be mobile and can drive. Living in the
suburbs has the potential to create isolation and loneliness.

Set Up Responsible Party

Adults without family support also
must have a healthcare proxy or arrange for future legal guardianship — someone
who will take over in a fiduciary capacity if the person cannot make decisions
for themselves.

The agent or proxy could be a relative
or a friend or even a professional fiduciary or private guardian. Solo agers
have a heightened need to have these legal docs in place while they are still
young and healthy since no adult child will be rushing in to help with

Plan early and think through the
process of selecting a trustworthy agent; someone you can count on
wholeheartedly to follow your wishes.

Caregiving Hacks when Aging Alone

There are a million things to plan for,
but you need to start with health, housing, support system, finances, legal
documents, and transportation. These are the top issues that most older adults
will and do face.

Your plan should start with action
steps that compensate for the top worries:

  • Understand
    the issues you will encounter, list them, and research how best to mitigate the
  • Lessen
    fear and worry by changing attitude from seeing problems to seeing opportunities
    and options.
  • Develop
    a close network of peers, friends, and support to compensate for no family
  • Remedy
    the effects of any past unhealthy behaviors – alcohol, smoking, eating fast
    foods, and inactivity.
  • Get
    legal matters in order, find a reliable and trustworthy healthcare and
    financial proxy.
  • Get
    control of your finances – set a budget and save money, find a reliable legal
    guardian who will safeguard your money if you’re unable.
  • Find
    affordable housing.
  • Avoid
    isolation and loneliness. Live where you have easy access to enjoying close
    relations and social activities.
  • Find
    accessible transportation, in case you can’t drive.

Don’t Be Careless About Your Personal Life Needs

Growing older may seem far off, and
since most of us cannot fathom anything significant enough that far down the
line, we do nothing or the very least we can to get by.

Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatrician, says,
“Human beings have a very limited ability to accurately predict or even
imagine the needs of their future self. This is especially true when that
future contains scary possibilities and lies decades in the future.”

After much research and reading, I’m
convinced a plan for the long-term does not require accuracy, because life is
dynamic and there’s nothing accurate about the future.

However, if we carefully observe and
mentally take note of what elders live through, there’s a chance that we can
learn through observation and make a fairly thorough plan for our future.

Then we can avoid the bi-product of
not planning which, according to Dr. Bill Thomas, is this: “People who are not
prepared get care that is chosen by someone else.”

How close do you live to a friend or
relative? Do you have a support group or community? How often do you review
your care plan? Please share with our community.