What the Research Tells Us
Research on aging is quite conclusive on several key points, and these points have special significance for solo agers:
- Social support networks are critical to a happy and fulfilling older life. When we aren’t able to get around easily our world shrinks. At that point in our lives, the companionship of others – younger people, older people, family or friends – becomes the high point of our lives.
- For those who are married or partnered, the most important person in the spectrum of aging is our spouse or significant other. For that reason, it is of paramount importance that married people, like their single counterparts, develop other strong relationships. No one knows which partner will depart this world first, so both need to cultivate other relationships.
- Solo agers are four times more likely to live alone than those with adult children. This, of course, can be a mixed blessing. Sometimes an older person or couple would prefer to continue to live in their own home, but for various reasons (safety, security) an adult child’s wishes have prevailed and the parent is moved into an assisted living community or in with the adult child.
Solo agers have no possibility of such contrarian wishes, and so must make those decisions alone – for better or worse. In the vast majority of these cases, the (default?) choice is to maintain full independence in their own home.
- Women fare better than men. This is true across the board, whether a person is a solo ager or parent, widowed, divorced, or never married. Women also still live longer. Maybe these two phenomena are connected.
At any rate, women form bonds with other women much more easily than their male counterparts. Most women seem to do this naturally and effortlessly, but that isn’t universally true. Some women and most men are not natural social butterflies, but for solo agers it is absolutely essential to form some close ties as we age.
What should we do now?
These are the facts about solo aging. Whenever I talk about this issue, I always have a handful of people who tell me that they do have children but, for a variety of reasons, they can’t count on them, or their children live thousands of miles away and they don’t see that changing any time in their future. These people may or may not be in the same boat, but for true solo agers like myself, my husband, and so many of my friends, the smart thing to do while we are still strong and healthy is to put plans in place for our future care and security. In part two of this post I describe some of the ways we can do that for ourselves.