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How solo agers, those older people without children, can prepare for later years

Q. As a single woman in my late 70s with no children or grandchildren, I worry. Who will be there for me when I need someone – particularly if I need care? Also, as the years go by, I am increasingly uncomfortable when friends go to great lengths to tell stories about their children and share their photos. I am happy for them but feel like an outsider. Any suggestions? G.T.

Solo aging is an often overlooked topic. The term refers to singles or couples without children or other family support. AARP designates 50 as the qualifying age. The concern about care in later life is based on reality. Among those age 65 and older, 70 percent will need care at some point. However, 30 percent are unlikely to need care. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to determine which percentage will apply to which individual. 

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sara Zeff Geber, author of “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults” (Mango, 2018). She advocates to “plan, form and maintain a community that becomes one’s support network.” And geography matters. Social networks evolve around where one lives. In our mobile society, families often live far away. Those in our network can help with a trip to the grocery store, a ride to an appointment, or assist with technology. See the Village movement as a support network in later life:

The other important task is to create directives. This gives someone the decision-making power to ensure that we live our future-older lives the way we want particularly if unwilling or unable to make decisions for ourselves. 

An advanced directive is a legal document that provides instructions for medical care that goes into effect if persons cannot communicate their wishes. The second legal document is a durable power of attorney that gives a person authority to manage one’s financial affairs and healthcare if unable (or unwilling) to manage them.

Geber says solo agers “often bury their heads in the sand” when an attorney asks for the names of individuals that will be named in the legal documents. She suggests considering a niece or nephew or a son or daughter of family-like friends and cultivating these relationships early on. 

Then there is the decision of where to live. Economics matter. Those with the financial resources might consider moving into a community that assures them care for the rest of their lives. These are called Continuing Care Communities that offer options for independent living, assisted living and memory care. Costs are based on amenities, floor plan, contract type, and location. 

Affordable options continue to be developed. One example is the 2Life Communities in the Boston area. Their communities are aimed at lower– and middle-income boomers, all designed with the belief that everyone deserves to live a life of stability, purpose, and connection. 

Shared housing is another option. Think of “The Golden Girls.” You might ask someone to share your home or consider moving into someone else’s home. Silvernest is a matching service that can facilitate an arrangement anywhere in the country. 

Another option is creating an ADU, which are legal auxiliary dwelling units on a property with an existing home. Then there is co-housing, “an intentional, collaborative neighborhood that combines private homes with shared indoor and outdoor spaces designed to support an active and interdependent community.” 

Geber writes a warning in a Forbes article about “The Cost of Denial,” stating: “Without good planning and foresight, one cardiac incident, one moment of disorientation that leads to a fall, one cancer diagnosis (and so much more) can lead to months or even years of being shuttled around from one unpleasant nursing home to the next, possibly even being rendered a ward of the court. No one wants that!

Empowerment is key. Each of us, with or without children, wants to have some control over how we live our later years. We need to exercise that power, taking the initiative and assuming the responsibility. 

A final comment about feeling like an outsider. As one solo ager said to me, “I feel outside the cultural norm. It seems normal to have a dog, kids or a partner, but not to be a solo ager.” Perhaps all of us can be more sensitive to the fact we are not all the same and realize that some may not be able to relate to grandchild experiences. At the same time, solo agers can seek out those with similar life circumstances. 

Thank you, G.T., for your good question. Stay well and know small acts of kindness can change the world.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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