A Village at Kentlands & Lakelands announcement.
HELLO FROM THE VILLAGE
To paraphrase the actress Bette Davis, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” This is especially true for those of us growing older without a partner or nearby family members. Those aging solo have the same concerns as everyone else in the older population, but these concerns are amplified by living alone without a built-in support system. In this issue of the Village News we’ll touch on some of the unique issues facing solo agers, offer tips on how to widen your support system and build new relationships, and talk about ways The Village at Kentlands & Lakelands (VKL) can help. You may be aging solo, but you don’t have to feel alone in the world.
--Fran Randolph, VKL Chair
WHAT IS SOLO AGING?
According to The Pew Research Center, about 27 percent of adults over age sixty in the U.S. live alone. Known as “solo agers,” this group is on the rise, especially among women.
Solo agers aren’t just those without live-in partners or family members close by. This group also includes men and women who live alone and never had children, who are estranged from their children or other family members, and even those who are the sole caregivers of a disabled spouse or adult child. In all these situations, people can feel lonely, isolated, and depressed. The Covid pandemic has only magnified these problems.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO KNOW ABOUT?
Solo agers are especially vulnerable to accidents and injuries, to falling prey to scam artists, or to making poor financial or legal decisions. Without a partner or adult child or relative to listen to our concerns and help us deal with life’s problems, we can make bad decisions or put off making any decisions at all until it’s too late.
The key to successful solo aging is having a strong support system. Research shows that older people with lots of friends are stronger physically and emotionally. Even their brains are healthier. Friends can offer companionship, practical advice, a sympathetic ear, help in an emergency, and so much more. Sadly, our circle of friends shrinks as we get older, and without work, school, or other built-in social systems opportunities to make new friends shrink too.
How do you find the energy – and courage – to make new friends? The tips below will help you meet this challenge head on.
READY, SET, SOCIALIZE!
So how do we connect socially at our age? According to one study, making a casual friend takes about fifty hours, making a real friend takes about ninety hours, and making a close friend takes about 200 hours. This may be an overstatement, but the fact is, making new friends takes time and effort. You need to put yourself out there. Here’s how:
• Be a joiner: Do you like to read? Visit your local library and ask if they have a book club. Are you into fitness? Check out local churches to see if they have free or low-cost exercise classes. Or how about joining or forming a walking group? Studies show that social activities combined with physical exercise are extra beneficial. Although face-to-face contact is ideal, you can also join online clubs like The Elder Orphans Facebook Group (facebook.com/groups/elderorphans) for solo agers over age fifty-five who don’t have children living nearby. It’s a place to exchange ideas and get your questions answered.
• Volunteer your time: Churches are wonderful friend magnets. How about volunteering at a local church food pantry? Do you have strong political views? Put them to good use by working on a political campaign. Are you an art lover or history buff? Become a docent at a museum. Animal lover? Volunteer to walk dogs at an animal shelter. Volunteer with your local Village organization to help (and meet) others.
• Adopt a pet: A cat or dog can be a wonderful companion and stave off loneliness. A dog also needs to be walked frequently, which forces you to get out of the house and exercise. You might even meet other dog owners in the park or around your neighborhood. Studies show that pet owners have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and fewer heart attacks.
• Reach out to others: Do you know someone else who lives alone? If so, reach out to them. Call them on the phone, bake a cake and stop over, or ask them to join you for a walk around the neighborhood. Before you know it, you’re spending an hour a week with them – and now you’ve made a friend!
FORM A FOUND FAMILY
Some people call their circle of friends a tribe, but for solo agers, the term “found family” says it better. When you lack a family of your own, friends create a sense of community and belonging. You can’t choose your real family, but you can choose your friends. That’s why a found family is also called a “family of choice.”
Okay, you’ve joined some groups and made new acquaintances. You’re getting out of the house, but you still haven’t made any real friends. Now it’s time to think about the qualities you want in a close friend. Why not make a list of these qualities and a list of what you can contribute to the friendship? If you enjoy discussing politics, you might seek out people who have the same political views. If you’re into exercising, you might look for friends who have an active lifestyle. Then join groups where you’ll find people with like interests. This goes for everyone, not just solo agers.
Speaking of good company, don’t overlook the value of younger friends. Hanging out with gen Xers and millennials helps keep you young and up to date on pop culture, music, technology and fashion. You might be surprised at the number of younger people who seek out older friends and mentors. Younger friends can also keep you more active because they’re more adventuresome and willing to try new things.
WHAT ABOUT MEN?
VILLAGE AT KENTLANDS AND LAKELANDS CAN HELP
The goals of the Village at Kentlands and Lakelands (VKL) are to help people 55+ make new social connections, live fully and independently, and find opportunities to give back. If you’re a solo ager, joining VKL is a big step in the right direction. Sponsored activities have included musical performances, health and wellness classes, technology assistance, guest lectures, luncheons, and annual celebrations. If you are interested in joining a bridge club, book club, or walking group, just let us know. Potential programs under consideration are workshops on how to avoid falling, building stronger memory, and wellness action recovery planning (WRAP).
OTHER HELPFUL HINTS FOR SOLO AGERS
Here are some additional resources on Solo Aging:
• Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults), sarazeffgeber.com
• For solo agers, a roadmap for a secure future: nextavenue.org/solo-agers-a-roadmap
• How to Live Well as Aging Solo: hebrewseniorlife.org/blog/how-live-well-while-aging-solo
• How to Thrive as a Solo Ager: nextavenue.org/series/solo-ager-thrive/
• Solo and Smart: The Roadmap for a Supportive and Secure Future), carolmarak.com
• Solo Ager – Guidance for solo adults aging along, carolmarak.com
• What “solo agers” should know about planning for the future: www.agingcare.com/articles
Information on solo aging was obtained from nextavenue.org, newretirement.com, and AARP.org.
For more information, just search under “solo aging” on each site.
VKL is working on the Spring issue of Village Views which will focus on the special challenges confronting solo agers that require creative solutions and planning.
Beginning March, VKL will be publishing Village Happenings, a monthly report that describes the activities sponsored by VKL, as well as those sponsored by other Villages in the D.C. Metro area that are open to our members and volunteers.
Learn more about Village membership and volunteering by contacting Jean Mocarski at
email@example.com or calling 240-449-9002.
You can also visit our website at www.villagekentlandslakelands.org.