6 Tips for Aging Alone

Whether it’s a widow or widower remaining on their own, a childless and single older adult who relishes independence or a rural resident embracing solitude, the term “solo ager” is used to describe an individual who lives without a partner or other relatives.

These adults are also particularly common in the U.S., according to a 2020 study conducted by the Pew Research Center. In fact, 27% of American adults over age 60 don’t have a spouse, children or other family nearby to care for them.

Those aging alone face a specific set of challenges that, while not insurmountable, do require some forethought and planning.

Here, experts pinpoint six common problems that can arise when aging in place and how to tackle them.

[READ: 7 Signs It May Be Time to Move to a Senior Living Facility]

1. Mobility Issues

If moving around is an issue, adding practical tools — like a cane, walker or rollator (a walker with wheels and a seat) — can help you navigate your space without the help of another human, says Jenny Munro, a gerontologist and response team manager at Home Instead, an Honor Company headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.

Wheelchairs, stair lifts and other devices can also help you get around your home safely and with less pain.

You may need to do some home remodeling, such as widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or scooters or installing ramps to eliminate stairs or ease entry to the home.

[How to Set Up Your Home for Aging in Place]

2. Transportation Challenges

If transportation is an issue, consider hiring a caregiver to run errands or drive you to appointments.

“Other options, such as Uber and Lyft, can also help with transportation,” Munro adds.

Many communities have ride services designed to assist older adults in getting around town as needed, with some offering shuttles to doctors’ offices, pharmacies, grocery stores, senior centers and other popular locations.

In some cases, these transportation services may be free or are offered at a steep discount when compared with local taxi or ride-hailing services. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging for more information on which programs and services are available in your region.

3. Changing Cognition Levels

Memory loss and cognitive decline are common in older adults, but they can also be a red flag for conditions like dementia. If memory issues arise, you should seek medical care to identify the problem and appropriate interventions.

You can also try various strategies to help prevent dementia and improve your overall brain health.

“I would suggest challenging yourself daily by learning something that has always piqued your interest — a foreign language, painting or cooking, taking up a new musical instrument, tai chi or salsa dancing. Whatever gets you out there and acquires new knowledge is great for the brain,” Munro explains.

[SEE: Early Signs of Dementia.]

4. Social Isolation

Living alone can be very isolating, which in turn can be harmful to long-term health and wellness. For instance, loneliness and social isolation, which is increasingly common as kids move out and seniors retire, can lead to dementia and are “associated with a higher rate of suicide among seniors,” points out Nicole Brackett, director of quality and care delivery with Homewatch Caregivers, a personal care service company headquartered in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

To offset isolation, try:

— Joining local senior centers or social groups through your community

— Joining a hobby club

— Volunteering with local organizations

— Visiting your place of worship

— Joining an exercise group

— Connecting with family and friends over social media or video calls

— Connecting with neighbors, who can also serve as an emergency contact

— Hiring a part-time caregiver who can act as a companion and help you navigate challenges with aging in place

5. Falls and Other Safety Concerns

Falls represent one of the biggest issues for older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 1 in 4 older adults falls each year, necessitating around 3 million emergency department visits.

To help you avoid falls, you should consider:

— Hiring a professional, such as a certified aging-in-place specialist or a physical or occupational therapist, to assess your home for any safety issues

— Removing trip hazards, such as clutter, extension cords, worn carpeting and area rugs

— Adding grab bars in strategic locations like the bathroom and kitchen

— Talking with your health care provider about any medications you’re taking that may elevate your risk of falling

— Using smart technology, such as sensors and cameras, to alert loved ones of any accidents or emergency situations

— Purchasing a medical alert system, which often includes fall detection

6. Household Management Issues

Managing activities of daily living, or ADLs for short, (such as grooming, dressing, feeding and toileting) and instrumental ADLs (including using the telephone, shopping, cooking, housekeeping, handling medications and finances) can get more challenging with age. However, support from a professional can make handling life’s tasks easier.

“Even the best of us need a little help sometimes,” notes James Bowdler, London-based founder of PrimeCarers, a service that connects individuals with home health care services via an online platform.

Professionals who can help include:

— A housecleaner to keep your home safer and more comfortable

— A gardener to ensure your yard is clear of any potential obstacles

— A caregiver to provide needed assistance with ADLs

You should also prioritize taking care of yourself.

“Healthy eating, regular exercise and social connectivity are all important elements which may help mitigate challenges such as frailty and memory loss,” Munro says.

Additionally, it’s important to remember not to forego regular check-ups with health care providers to help you manage any health issues you may have.

The Bottom Line

The key to aging alone is planning ahead.

That means “researching all options and sharing preferences with loved ones so that if a time comes when someone cannot speak for themselves due to illness, their wishes are honored,” Brackett explains.

If you’re unsure where to start, you can try tapping local resources or hiring a geriatric care manager to help you outline next steps.

More from U.S. News

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Nursing Home Red Flags You Should Watch Out For

6 Tips for Aging Alone originally appeared on usnews.com

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