For Solo Agers, A Roadmap for a Secure Future
Questions to ask yourself about topics such as health, social connections, housing, finances, and transportation to see how prepared you are to age independently
Editor’s note: In this last week of 2022, we are featuring some of our most popular stories of the year. This piece was originally published in January.
Planning for the long-term can be unsettling, because aging is complicated and stacked with complexities and risks. But if you are a solo ager - someone without a spouse or children - enacting a plan will, over time, turn out to be one of the smartest things to do. Starting out, the toughest question to address is, where do I begin? That in itself elevates one's stress and worry to the point that it causes people to delay or put off making a plan entirely.
In the book, "The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living," Dr. Amit Sood, a Mayo Clinic specialist in stress and resiliency, reveals how the mind's instinctive restlessness and shortsightedness generate stress and anxiety — especially when under pressure to perform.
When in this state, the brain reverts to distractions and absent-mindedness and Sood believes people spend half or more of their days disengaged from the present moment. And if you're dealing with a particular event or an emergency, being disengaged and absent-minded is not where you want your brain to be during the times that require unwavering decisions.
Since the caregiving experience illustrated to me the biggest challenges that I will encounter at some point, helping my parents turned out to be a wake-up call. The idea of managing my life in the older years without daughters or sons to rely on invited much worry and stress.
Working through the worries of aging alone, over time I concluded, Wouldn't it make sense to think through significant long-term concerns before these issues become a threat?
Eventually, that's what happened, and I got to work. I reviewed the top concerns that my parents faced and laid out a plan — a strategy that strengthened my ability to achieve independence in my 70s, 80s, and 90s.
I'm happy to report that applying these action steps has netted a higher confidence in my ability to take better care of myself and to live independently far longer. And if you apply them in your own life, I bet it will do the same for you.
A Solo Ager's Toolkit for Independence
Instinctively, I knew that ill health and other aspects such as isolation and loneliness, having purpose, and lack of support would agitate my wellness and stability.
Most singles and adults aging alone give little regard to the risks until they have firsthand experiences. If you've ever been or are currently in the throes of elder care, you can relate. That's why it is imperative to learn healthy, connected, and supportive behaviors long before you need help.
The Guided Roadmap for a Supportive and Secure Future is a strategy that launched my own future plan. The circle came about from observing my parents. The tool opened a window to assess life's domains and the opportunity to witness where I fall short and where I excel.
Once I had a solid handle on my strengths and weaknesses of these top aging issues, I was primed for the needed changes.
The Living Well Assessment
The Living Well Assessment illustrates and instructs a person how to assess, evaluate and rate their current level of satisfaction in each domain: Money/Finances, Spirituality, Work/Purpose, Legal, Fun/Engagement, Community Support, Transportation, Family/Friends, Health/Fitness and Housing/Location.
Using a set of questions per domain allows a user to self-appraise each by giving it a value on the scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being a "difficulty or complete dilemma" and 10 is "wow, this feels good, minor improvement needed."
After giving each question an honest value ranging from 1-10, tally up the final result by adding each value within the domain sequence. It sets the stage for identifying where you are right now with each.
Knowing which domain receives the fewest tallies, signals the need for attention, adjustment, and reform.
Let's get started! Please know this is a condensed version of the Living Well Assessment. Answer each question and give it a rating 1-10. Keep track and tally the final result by adding each value within the domain sequence.
How Satisfied Are You With Your Health?
- Knowledge about your family medical history?
- Number of, and how well you manage, your chronic illnesses?
- Annual blood test results and screenings?
- Daily nutrition and whole foods intake?
- Your self-care routines?
Ask: Do I have any chronic diseases, and how can I improve managing them? For relatives who have died, what can I learn about the cause and age of death? What would "healthy"look like for me? What are my barriers to good health: diet, nutrition, and exercise? What decisions can I make today that positively affect my health?
How Satisfied Are You With Your Housing?
- Ability to pay the home mortgage or rent? Can you easily handle the maintenance costs and upkeep?
- Home’s ability to meet your age in place requirements? Is it a single home or two-story?
- Proximity to family and friends, doctors, pharmacies, other medical facilities, shopping, senior centers, religious facilities, and other amenities?
- In-home support services when needed?
How Satisfied Are You With Social Connections?
- Your daily social interactions and activities?
- The available support?
- Loneliness and isolation?
- Social network size?
Ask: How can I enhance connections where I live? What could happen that would enable me to feel fully engaged? What kind of friendships do I want? Describe them. What's one thing I can do to improve connections and friendships? What are two things I can do this week to feel less lonely? At times that I had the most friendships, what was going on?
How Satisfied Are You With Support?
- If you wanted to go on a trip for a day, or have lunch out, is there someone to invite?
- Who can you talk to about private worries and fears? What about financial and medical decisions?
- If you were sick, can you easily find someone to help with daily chores?
- Is there someone you can turn to for advice about handling problems?
Ask: What is the biggest barrier for having support? What types of support would satisfy my needs? What are my local options? Who isn't available to help? Why not? Too costly? How can I create a support network offering reciprocity?
How Satisfied Are You With Your Location?
- Level of police monitoring where I live?
- The safety and crime rate?
- Are health services nearby? What about shopping?
- Are recreation and cultural activities nearby?
Ask: How high is the crime rate? What are the options for free alerts about recent crimes near me? What are the alternatives for remaining in the community as I age? What kinds of health medical services are available? What kinds of jobs exist? Does shopping require driving?
How Satisfied Are You With Exercise and Fitness?
- Sit to stand position?
- How many pounds can I lift and carry?
- Can I sit and reach? Sit to stand and go?
- How far can I walk?
- Moving my body?
Ask: When active, what kind of things do I enjoy? How can I move more during the day? How has my energy level changed? What do I enjoy about (insert activity, such as walking in the park)? How does my body feel when I'm active? During? After? How does being active influence my mood?
How Satisfied Are You With Transportation?
- Driving a car or in heavy traffic?
- Affording a vehicle?
- Having easy access to medical rides or getting to appointments?
- Walking to shops and getting groceries?
Ask: Are there private or non-profit transportation services? Public transit nearby? Can I walk to do errands? Do medical/transportation services exist? Are friends or family available for rides or help with errands? What other transportation options are available?
How Satisfied Are You With Your Finances and Legal Matters?
- Retirement savings?
- Amount of debt carried?
- Amount of an emergency fund saved?
- All the assets?
- Checking and savings? Overseeing my finances if I can’t?
- The selected health and financial proxy? My will or trust?
Find Solutions and Take Action
Your goal, once you've assessed your life and needs: Find solutions by understanding what actions you need to take to improve the issues that rate 5 or lower. Then locate solutions that appeal to your preferences through research. This is an abridged version of the Living Well Assessment however, it's a great place to start. By doing the work, it sets your life on the trajectory of aging well.