AARP Maine reports that over 135,000 people age 50 and older live alone in the state and are at higher risk of social isolation. Often, these solo agers, “kinless,” or “elderly orphans” are widowed, divorced, never married, or have no children. Black people, women, people with low incomes, and the LGBTQ community are among those most affected.
The COVID-19 pandemic might have worsened isolation and loneliness, especially among older people. A recent AARP survey showed that of nearly 1,000 people, many adults are lonelier now than they were before the pandemic. People between the ages of 66 and 75 most frequently said they are more lonely now than they were before. Contributing factors include experiencing a major illness or the death of loved ones.
Living alone without a lot of social connections can lead to loneliness, and as studies suggest, add to a decline in health through anxiety, depression, dementia, and other illnesses.
Ways to Keep Connected While Living Independently
For active older people who feel lonely, staying connected may mean getting more involved in their communities and meeting new people. Opportunities include volunteering for a local charity or joining MeetUp or similar groups that match their hobbies and interests.
Several community-based services are also available. Local Area Agencies on Aging may host regular events and meetings, such as bingo games or knitting circles. Senior Companion, which operates in 12 Maine counties, is part of a federal nationwide program. It pairs active volunteers age 55 and older with home-bound or isolated seniors or disabled adults who want to stay independent. Elderly people who can handle the responsibility of pet care can adopt a pet through a local program, such as Special Pets for Seniors run by the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society. AARP Maine also offers Resources to Fight Social Isolation as does the AARP Foundation.
When transportation is difficult and in-person meetings aren't possible, video-based events through platforms such as Zoom could continue to be options.
Housing Options for Fostering Community Connections
Solo agers can opt to expand their networks of caregivers to friends, neighbors, or extended family members.
Active seniors with the means to do so may choose to move to a retirement community. Some of these campuses also offer long-term care, known as continuing care retirement communities.
Shared housing, such as that offered by the village movement, is another option for active elderly people. The villages, like the national Village to Village Network, similar to AARP's Network of Age-Friendly Communities, are non-profit membership organizations that offer support and social engagement for independent older people.
How Solo Agers Are Managing Their Futures
An AARP survey of solo agers age 50 and older found that just one-third of respondents have someone to help manage their household or handle daily expenses; nearly 77 percent reported little or no planning for living assistance as they age.
Only half of them have an advanced medical directive. Similarly, only half of solo agers have created a will or a trust, and about one-third have arranged for their funeral or burial. They may also fail to consider providing for the care of a pet.
Crisis and Estate Planning Help to Ease the Path Forward
The effects of loneliness can worsen mental and physical health. If you suffer from an urgent mental health or substance use issue, call Maine Crisis and Counseling, which serves Kennebec and Somerset Counties: (888) 568-1112. Aid is also available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) national hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). For information about public assistance in Maine, call 211.
If you need help planning for your estate or navigating the issues of aging, our knowledgeable and experienced attorneys would be happy to assist. Contact us online or call (207) 377-6966.