The lifestyle and concept of aging alone is not new, but in the U.S. more people experience aging at home without the support of family nearby (2010 Census.) In the rural area where I grew up, the older generations never worried about being left alone without help. Families saw to it that older members had a place to live, food on the table, received help with daily living, and a bed. Our elders shared in social activities and never felt left out. Even the local township and churches actively participated in caring for elders when they were alone. It gave us a sense of paying it forward or making a difference, not fulfilling an obligation. But in larger cities there may have been an epidemic of loneliness and isolation, just not where I grew up.
Family dynamics have shifted and altered over the last 50 years. More people have moved from their home towns to prepare for adulthood and headed off to college. That’s what happened in my family. However, when my parents needed me in their elder years, their offspring rallied to help. But not all families are capable or willing.
As for me, I wonder who will care for me later on? I’m in my mid-sixties and have no children or a spouse and since I want to surround myself with like-minded individuals, I started a Facebook group to help mitigate our loneliness, lack of support, and to share knowledge and insights on coping. And sometimes we celebrate the decades of shared memories. Over the past year, some members even meet locally.
Most members in the group accept that problems like loneliness, job dissatisfaction, social isolation, ability to make friends, finding worthwhile free time pursuits, dealing with dysfunctional families or physical limitations may apply just as much to a younger adult, a healthy child or teenager, and even a disabled Millennial, or the married couple next door, but generally speaking, older adults may have a harder time with isolation than the younger individuals, excluding people living with a disability.
In our group, we discuss tough issues and many times share resources, words of encouragement, and tips that help us get by during difficult times. I believe if one has a family member nearby, it’s easier (but not less painful or worrisome) to face a challenge, an impending medical treatment, and even a hospital stay. However, having support and the love of another individual goes a long way to relieve anxiety.
Real aging alone worries — and support given
- “Being in the hospital alone. I’ve gone to the ER due to serious breathing issues. Wrote an email to my only family, a brother 600 miles away of my wishes for my cats, my health directives, cremation and my estate.”
- “I've had serious blood pressure issues recently and was hospitalized too. Hope you are better soon. Wish I was closer to help you out if needed.”
- “Inspired by a (late) friend, I have made a will and I'm currently seeking some sort of pre-arranged cremation services and have contacted my sisters 3,000 miles away and made them aware of my wishes and cleared it with them. Now, since I am the only one left, I can get on living the remaining chapters.”
- “I had serious back surgery recently and like you will be pretty much alone. To say that I'm terrified would be an understatement. I just know that I've done everything else for my back and this is the last step to see if I get any relief from pain which goes on 24/7. This will be a six-hour surgery so not a walk in the park. I certainly empathize with you and hope you will keep me in your thoughts on Thursday.”
- “I need to coordinate the legal docs and appoint a guardian, maybe a lawyer, to work with the hospital and funeral director. At the end of the day, it may be a smarter more caring choice than distant family.”
- “Two weeks ago I had surgery and heard the question we all dread..do you have someone to pick you up?”
- “For the 1st time..I enlisted friends. It was empowering. But ..they won't always be there.”
- “This is where we experience the heart of our and sadness. It also brings up so many past hurts and regrets.”
- “I have no one to manage my affairs when I die. I'm not worried about my fur baby.......there are at least four people who would take him in a heart beat. He's such a love! But people don't want to be involved with handling things when a person dies..........unless they are family and I have none.”
Hopes and wisdom shared
- “We are not alone! Children are negligent and don't show up—even adult children see sick parents once a year.”
- “Husbands of chronically ill women can be negligent and nasty. Many of them have family dysfunction and estrangement.”
- “As I'm writing this and seeing these oppressed and neglected married women with children..we might take a different approach and congratulate ourselves on being strong survivors of life.”
- “I was in another country, and I developed a.sac of water around my heart. I didn't die, but I'm still having a lot of trouble walk-ins, lifting, rolling over in bed, etc. It sucks to have no one to call on. I'm new to the area.”
- “DRGs are the worse thing for single patients. Please make sure the Social Worker knows that you go home to no one and that you have no one to check up on you. Maybe they can transfer you to assisted living for a week or two.”
- “Whatever you do, DO NOT LEAVE until 1) you have a diagnosis that makes sense to you, and 2) there is someone to come and get you, and see you safely home.”
- “I’m thrilled by social experiments all over the world bringing students or teens together with the aging in win/win situations. As we face a changing reality don't forget all of our positives and benefits. The retired have more free time and a lifetime of experience to share. Consider mentoring a young entrepreneur, teaching scouts how to cook, sew, crochet, train a dog. What did our grands teach us? Pass it on!”
Some individuals may read the article and say, “how depressing,” whereas a member of the group, me, would read and say, “how refreshing, people aging at home alone, have a platform to be heard and supported.”