Written by Carol Marak, founder of the Elder Orphan Facebook Group
How we choose to live are the result of our individual preferences and the resources available. It’s remarkable that most seniors choose to age in their homes. They feel that home is where they find the most comfort and connection to memories.
If you intend to live at home, start looking for ways to connect with neighbors and to find activities that you enjoy. The various ways could be through block parties, potluck dinners, or social events like game night each month. In my highrise, that’s what we have set up. Once a month, residents meet in the club room to play games, or go to happy hour at a nearby restaurant, or for dinner. It’s why I’ve chosen to live in a highrise situated in an urban area, because I have easy access to social activities, entertainment, and neighbors. I’m rarely lonely. Plus, it’s a built in support system!
Start today in creating a plan for the future. The longer you put it off, the more difficulty you’ll have following through. Before you get started, here are a few tips that will help pull together a strategy for the future.
Assess the Situation
Start assessing your current circumstances. If you’re aging alone, the best way to help yourself right now is to assess your attitude, your abilities, the community, your social system, and the things you like to do. Start with:
Exercise #1: Evaluate Your Mindset
How would I label my mindset and outlook? A glass half full or half empty? Do you focus on “the problem, or the possibility?” You don’t have to be a Pollyanna, however most people prefer engaging with someone who possesses a positive mindset over someone who is pessimistic. Learn how to shift from problem dwelling to seeing possibilities instead.
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ~Buddha
- Act Positive – Smile at strangers as you pass them, try to eliminate negative adjectives from your vocabulary, carry yourself like you are having a wonderful day, and invite friendliness by engaging in conversation with others.
- Have gratitude – Dedicate just five minutes of your day to deliberate cultivation of appreciation, it will improve your overall mindset.
- Choose your friends wisely — Spend time with people who are energetic, optimistic and supportive.
- Picture yourself achieving your goals.
- Treat yourself and others with kindness.
Exercise #2: Evaluate Your Larger Community
Will the larger community support me? Do you have access to clean drinking water? Does your community have low crime rate, services for the elderly, environmental condition, resident health disparities, hunger, inadequate emergency services, lack of affordable housing, accessible public transportation, and high poverty and violence?
Learn the Health Rating of Your Community
Exercise #3: Evaluate Your Social Connections
Who do I enjoy spending time with? If your friend network lives on the other side of a big city, start collecting friends nearby. The best place to go to meet them are at a senior center, a book club at the library, a jewelry making class, a woodworking group, sewing circle, golf course, a local animal shelter, a faith organization, or another volunteer-type organization.
Social interaction is one of the basic needs of human life. We are social beings with a need to be socially active and have meaningful engagement.
There are many ways to build friendships, support, and social activity. If you’re a solo ager, more than likely, you’re satisfied with the status quo and content with living alone and doing everything yourself. But research says when we have a solid and dependable community of connections in our later years, we can experience improved health and mental functioning. Try these suggestions to find and make new friends:
- Put yourself in new situations
- Develop a list of fun, exciting challenges you want to overcome.
- Explore a city on your own – start smaller, go to a restaurant and eat alone
- Visit a museum or take the public transit
- Enroll in a challenging course at your local university
- Learn a new language
- Take a writing class
- Volunteer to meet new people
Exercise #4: Evaluate Your Interests
What passions do I have? It could be writing, knitting, making furniture, painting, pottery, playing cards, gardening, swimming, traveling, yoga, pilates, tutoring, learning a language, or dancing. Or maybe your a serial entrepreneur and want to launch a new company?
- Take an Inventory of your talents — What are you good at or have a natural aptitude for? Forget about what you’re good at but don’t really like doing much.What things do you have a knack for that happily occupy you?
- Think of what you loved to do as a child — What pursuits light up your days? Before the grown-up part of you convinces you otherwise, ask, what makes me the happiest? Hint: Notice when you lose track of time, or what do you hate to stop doing?
- See your passion hunt as a fun, joyful adventure. Notice the things you enjoy doing. Have fun exploring.
Exercise #5: Evaluate Your Skills
What skills do I embrace? Relationship building, listening, written and verbal communications, time management, budgeting, delegating, technical, cooking, car maintenance, organizing, and negotiations. Others would include empathy, patience, positivity, and keen observation skills.
Activities and tasks that you enjoy are worth examining, because that’s where you’ll find your greatest strengths.
- Throwing a potluck dinner or organizing a happy hour could be related to a talent for event planning.
- Writing the neighborhood newsletter could mean you have a gift for reasoning and problem solving, a talent for communications, or that you write good copy.
Exercise #6: Evaluate Support
Who can I count on for help or assistance? The larger the support system, the more people to draw from. Concentrate on building a strong network of neighbors, contacts, and friends. These are the people you can count on when and if needed.
Refer to #3
List family and friends who will step up if you need care. The list could include out-of-town family, friends, neighbors, and significant others. Identify all resources and benefits available. If you need help finding resources, call the local Department of Aging, a Geriatric care manager, or a social worker who can assist gathering information. The list should include:
- Who could help you in a crisis?
- Do you have a long-term care policy?
- Are you a veteran in the military?
Exercise #7: Evaluate Transportation
What forms of transportation can you rely on? Does an Uber, Lyft, or another type of shared rides exist in the area? What about volunteer drivers from a faith organization or the Area Agency on Aging department? Does AARP have a volunteer organization that assists the needy?
Community transportation services
- Volunteer Driver Programs are usually faith-based or nonprofits with a network of people who give of their time for shopping, recreation, doctor’s appointments and other needs. Reservations are required. Cost is minimal and sometimes free. Contact a local nursing home, assisted living facility, or retirement community in your area or the local Area Agency on Aging.
- Paratransit Service: Private agencies provide transportation using minibuses or small vans to the elderly or those with disabilities.
- Door-through-Door Service: Private agencies provide drivers who offer personal assistance (wheelchair help, help with bags, etc.) through a passenger’s door and on through the door of their destination and back.
- Most metro areas will have a number of personal transportation options from mom-and-pop operations to larger organizations like the Supplemental Transportation Programs for Seniors (STPs), which are grassroots organizations run by staff and volunteers, and funded through grants and donations.
- ITN (Independent Transportation Network) America uses paid and volunteer drivers to provide door-to-door service 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. There’s a pick up charge and mileage charge with a minimum charge of $9 per location. There’s also a $40 membership fee but check for current rates.
Check out transportation services and assistance online:
Exercise #8: Evaluate Your Health and Wellness
How often do you visit your doctor’s office? Do you get an annual check up? Medicare Wellness exam, blood work, blood pressure, eye exam, preventative tests and screenings, vaccinations, eye, periodontal, and hearing exams?
- Health screenings for women ages 40 to 64
- Health screenings for women over age 65
- Health screenings for men ages 40 to 64
- Health screenings for men over age 65
Exercise #9: Evaluate the Need for a Care Manager
Care management is a set of activities that improve patient care and reduce the need for medical services by increasing coordination of care, eliminating duplication, and helping patients and caregivers effectively manage health conditions. Care management improves quality and control costs for patients with complex conditions.
The advantages of working with a manager can be great. The disadvantages are that insurance does not cover a care manager’s services unless the manager works for a long term care insurer and that is part of the benefit. Another disadvantage, because there is no state board to check on the status of a licensee is that the patient, senior, or family member must do their own research, reference and background checking to see if the person is legitimate and a right fit. There are self-governing managers’ and advocates’ organizations that controls membership without government oversight.
When to hire a care manager or patient advocate
- You need help solving a complex behavior issue – when an older adult develops serious behavioral issues such as dementia: verbal abuse or physical combativeness.
- You need help solving problems in a senior living community. If you live in an assisted living community and you need more assistance than what the community staff provides. But the community won’t let you hire a private aide. A care manager and patient advocates understand how these communities work, what the state laws are, and will negotiate on your behalf.
- You need someone to check in on you and to oversee your health, personal care, safety, and independence.
- Your family lives far away and you don’t want to be a burden. There’s no substitute for having someone in person to make sure you’re well cared for.
- You’re not sure what to do. You may feel confused and unsure about what you need. Care managers and patient advocates can help you understand the options, trade-offs, and costs.
Exercise #10: Evaluate Your Nutrition and Healthy Eating
The National Council on Aging encourages seniors to eat healthy meals. Giving the body the right nutrients and maintaining a healthy weight can help you stay active and independent. You’ll also spend less time and money at the doctor. This is especially true if you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.
Healthy nutrition begins with eating a variety of foods that supply the nutrients a person needs as they age. A healthy eating plan includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Depending on your preferences it could be lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Make sure it’s low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium) and added sugars.
- Eat fruits and vegetables. They can be fresh, frozen or canned. Eat more dark green vegetables such as leafy greens or broccoli, and orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Vary protein choices with more fish, beans and peas.
- Eat at least three ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day. Choose whole grains whenever possible.
- Have three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy (milk, yogurt or cheese) that are fortified with vitamin D to help keep your bones healthy.
- Make the fats you eat polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Switch from solid fats to oils when preparing food.