Solo Agers, Loneliness and Depression

Solo Agers, Loneliness and Depression

Living alone isn’t always easy. Not only must you manage all the details of day-to-day life, but you might also deal with feelings of loneliness and isolation from time to time.

As you might imagine, there has been a great deal of research on solo agers. In addition to the question of how they feel about flying solo and what they want their golden years to look like, scientists have looked into the medical and emotional concerns of those who are living alone. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association: Psychiatry, one out of every four elderly individuals experiences social isolation and 35% of adults over the age of 45 feels lonely. And when loneliness becomes prolonged, oftentimes negative health consequences arise. Seniors who report social isolation have an increased risk of early death.1

Depression is a significant problem for the elderly, but especially for solo agers, who don’t have the social benefits of a spouse or partner. Studies have found that every scientific measure of solo aging – living alone, being unmarried or widowed, not having family or friends nearby, hearing loss, or chronic illness, to name a few – increases the likelihood of feeling lonely and being diagnoses with depression.2

This might be especially true for elder orphans. These are seniors over the age of 50 who live alone, have no partner or spouse in a long-term relationship, as well as no living children or parents. Loneliness and depression can be constant companions for these individuals, and the problem might be exacerbated by a fear of being alone. Alert1 personal emergency button alarms may allay some of those fears by providing 24/7 support at the press of a button.

What Drives Loneliness and Depression for Solo Agers?

AARP surveyed a large group of solo agers to find out what worried them the most about growing old by themselves. Many of those fears centered on losing their independence. Fully half of all solo agers reported fears of being moved somewhere against their will, and almost half of them fear dying alone, without anyone to comfort them in their last moments.3

And one-third of solo agers are completely alone in that they don’t have anyone – family, friends, or even professional caregivers – who can help them manage their household or finances if they can’t do so themselves. Alert1 medical alert systems support seniors to age in place as long as possible.

Regular screenings at your doctor’s office can help catch the low mood that might affect your quality of life, but it’s always a good idea to create a social circle around you – not only can that help stave off the loneliness for solo agers, but it also provides extra sets of eyes and ears to watch over you and be able to alert you to changes in your mental and physical health.

How to Find More Peace of Mind as a Solo Ager

How can solo agers alleviate their worries and concerns? How can they create that social circle around them? How can they live independently without being entirely alone? These are all serious considerations that can raise the risk of depression and loneliness among those who are more isolated than most. Let’s take a look at some tips to allay these concerns.

Make Your End-of-Life Wishes Known

For many elderly individuals, their spouse or close family members know what they want to happen at the end of their lives. Even so, it’s a good idea to have the proper documents in place, including power of attorney or a living will. For solo agers, that becomes especially important since there might be no one there who can provide doctors with adequate information and their final wishes if an accident or emergency occurs. In fact, only half of solo agers have an advanced medical directive, and only 44% of those have given a copy to their doctor.

Speak to an attorney or financial advisor about creating a living will, a will and trust, and a power of attorney. Your situation might require other documentation as well. Once these items are in place, you can breathe a sigh of relief that your desires and needs at the end of your life will be known and followed.

Seriously Think About How to Live Independently

Though many want to live in their own homes and remain independent for as long as possible, only one in four solo agers have planned for how they will live independently as they get older.

Even those who have looked into what it takes to live independently have often not taken steps to do so. The AARP survey found that while most people want to live out their days in their own homes, only about one in five have looked for a home that is cheaper or easier to live in or implemented aging in place solutions that might help them stay independent as long as they can.

This can be a serious problem in the future for solo agers; the Administration for Community Living tells us that 70% of those over the age of 65 will need some form of long term care at some point.4 That can mean anything from basic assistance with the activities of daily living to significant memory or medical care that takes round-the-clock caregiving.  And while long term care insurance can be a good financial choice for seniors, there are other things you can do right now to start preparing your home and your life in general for living independently even when things get tough:

·        Plan for home modifications. Talking to an aging in place specialist can help you see the places in your current home that can be modified as you get older. Though some of these modifications can be significant, such as adding a ramp to your home’s entrance or installing a walk-in tub, others are simple and affordable, such as installing grab bars in the bathroom or improving the lighting throughout the home.

·        Get medical alert technology. Knowing that someone is available to you 24/7 if something bad happens to you can provide serious peace of mind. A medical alert pendant, especially one with fall detection, is a great way to ensure that you can reach out to get help at any time, day or night. Medical alarms don’t take holidays or vacations; they are always ready to go if you need to press the panic button and get assistance right away.

·        Consider your chronic conditions. Take a good look at your medical history and the chronic conditions you are dealing with. Though you might already take your medications exactly as directed and stay on top of any treatments and appointments, chronic conditions tend to worsen over time, even with the best of care. What might that mean for you as you get older? For instance, if you have arthritis that will continue to worsen, a walk-in tub or roll-in shower in your home might be an excellent idea. If you have diabetic neuropathy and have trouble with walking, you might need to consider one-story living. Start planning for these things now so that you don’t have to deal with sticker shock later.

·        Start financial planning. Speaking of sticker shock, now is the time to get your financial affairs in order. Don’t wait until you are facing a dire situation to look at what you have socked away for retirement and how far your funds might go if you encounter a medical emergency that keeps you from working or requires more of your savings than you expected. Talking with a financial advisor can put your mind at ease.

Take Your Health into Account

Loneliness can bring serious health risks. The CDC reports that social isolation brings a 50% increased risk of dementia and other serious health conditions. In fact, social isolation can increase the risk so much that loneliness rivals smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle as a cause of premature death. And of course, loneliness is associated with higher risks of depression and anxiety.5

If you know you are socially isolated and feeling lonely, it’s time to pay extra attention to your health. That means not only keeping all your doctor’s appointments and following medication regimens as directed, but also keeping track of how you feel in your day-to-day life. Keeping a health journal where you can track your mood, activity, meals, and any concerns can help. It’s a good idea to invest in a home blood pressure cuff to monitor hypertension, a glucose monitor to ensure your blood sugar is where it should be, and a pulse oximeter to test your oxygen levels from time to time.

Also stay more alert to the signs and symptoms of something going wrong. Don’t just write off that bit of chest pain as indigestion – though it very well might be, it could also be something more serious. Solo agers need to be more proactive by realizing that since they are alone, there is no one there to be able to say, “you don’t look well right now.”

A senior life-saving alert system from Alert1 is a good way to get more peace of mind. If something does go wrong with your health, you can always press the medical alarm at any time and get the help you need right away. It’s there at your fingertips in the event of accident or emergency. But even if you’re on the go, a mobile medical alert system can help emergency services find you, no matter where you are.

Reach Out and Become More Social

Solo agers tend to see living alone as a wonderful thing, with 60% telling AARP that they feel positive about their independence. Half of them are quite satisfied with where they are in their lives. But they also feel more isolated, lacking in companionship, and more left out than the general elderly population.6

Strong friendships can help keep you from feeling lonely. But it can be daunting and difficult to find new friendships in later life. Here are a few tips to make that happen for you:

·        Volunteer. Find a place that needs your assistance and start spending more time there. Not only will you meet people with similar goals and a drive to help others, you might spend enough time volunteering to build long-lasting friendships while “on the job.”

·        Use social media. Reaching out to others doesn’t have to happen in person. Social media, message boards dedicated to your hobbies or interests, or finding support groups online can lead to meaningful conversations and connections.

·        Use word of mouth. Do you have a friend who is a social butterfly? Tell them that you need more friends and ask them for introductions to others they know. If they know you want to build a social circle, they will likely go above and beyond to make sure you’re included.

·        Stay active. Simply get out there in physical proximity to others. Going to the library, taking a walk in the park, joining a pickleball club at your local senior center, or even going to the mall to window shop can be great ways to meet others.

·        Get a pet. Not only can a pet help alleviate the loneliness you might feel, they can also be excellent ice breakers. Simply going to the dog park can open up countless conversations and potential friendships with fellow dog lovers; taking your cat out for a walk (yes, you can do that) can get plenty of friendly smiles and questions.

As you become more social and work to alleviate the loneliness, also work to stay as healthy and safe as possible. When you are wandering the trails at the park, walking a rambunctious dog, playing for every hard-earned point at pickleball or simply talking with new friends on a message board, keep an emergency response solution right there at your fingertips. If something does go wrong, you can reach out to the monitoring center at any time, and there will be a friendly voice on the line, ready to assist you. With a medical alert or PERS device, solo agers can live independently but never alone.