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Aging Without Family? Creating Your Community of Care

Photo: senior woman smiling

All of us are born into families. Some have brothers and sisters while others are the only child. We may have been raised by a single mom or dad, or both parents. But as we grow older, some people end up divorced, widowed, and without children because of estrangement, distance or just by never having offspring.

However we end up aging without family, it doesn’t matter. What’s important, is that you design a plan that helps you stay content, comfortable, independent, and safe. I created my own aging alone plan and want to encourage you to do the same if you haven’t yet.

My plan launched after helping both my parents through their elderly years. If you’re a family caregiver, you know how hard that is. Once they passed, I reflected on all their needs and how much work they required.

Looking back, I understand now what a gift caregiving was, it showed what’s ahead and inspired me to take responsibility of my health, to exercise more, and to make friends.

The biggest concern for people aging alone (solo agers) are finding a friend who will listen to our concerns if we’re feeling sad. And finding a friend or neighbor who can give us a ride to the doctor’s office if we can’t drive ourselves. Someone to call in case of an emergency, besides 911.

Are you Aging Without Family, and Alone?

Geriatricians describe us as the aged, community-dwelling individuals who are socially or physically isolated, without an available family member or surrogate or caregiver, then you’re aging alone. If you identify with the term or the description, it’s time to get prepared for the later years.

How to Build a Community of Support

I was curious to know if there were others like me, alone and craving to connect and learn how to navigate aging. So, I started a Facebook group called “Elder Orphans” and waited to see who joined. Eight thousand have. It was a relief knowing that many people share my experience.

For me, the Facebook group initiated my “aging alone” action steps. In my local area, a subgroup of members living nearby share rides to medical appointments, meet for lunch, call one another if lonely, take walks, and even share skills. We meet once a month as a group to bond.

A friend in San Diego has a group of people who have decided to take care of each other as they age. The group’s intention is care support. An added benefit is that some have built lifelong friendships.

Create a Community Care Plan so You’re Aging Together

Start your own “aging alone” care plan by exchanging information and supports, such as:

  1. Names, phone, email
  2. Days and times available
  3. Things each member wants and needs
  4. Shared community resources
  5. Who can bring meals to sick
  6. Who can give rides to medical appointments
  7. Who can help with personal care
  8. Offers of companionship when home alone and can’t leave house
  9. Other skills and tasks you’re willing to do/not do
  10. Act as a health proxy for another person(s)
  11. Act as a legal guardian for another person(s)

Places to go to Meet New Friends for a Close-Knit Group

If you’re wondering where to go to meet like-minded people, join Meetup or ask your church, synagogue, mosque or temple.

Join Meetup. Meetups are in-person gatherings where members and organizers get together to connect, discuss, and practice activities related to their shared interests. What are your interests? Make a list and peruse Meetup for local groups offering these activities.

Faith organizations. Ask the activities director to start a support group for people like you. Then help the director promote the group to the congregation. Start out small. Meet after service once a month to share a cup of coffee and create a contact list. Agree to meet for dinner or brunch. You could start a closed Facebook group or your own so members can communicate between social events.

Put yourself in an environment where there are people you can connect with over similar interests. Whether it’s a mastermind group, sport league, walking group, yoga class, night class at a community college, cooking class, MeetUp or Facebook group… put yourself in situations and in the middle of audiences where you’ll meet multiple new people face to face. If you’re a late-blooming artist, there are art classes, writing groups and musical groups to join.

Once you have budding friendships or relationships, stay in touch, keep hanging out, and let it blossom. Your community of support won’t grow overnight. It takes time, effort, and concentrated focus of intention shared by the members.

It’s important to trust one another. After it’s established, then you can meet in the privacy of friends’ and members’ homes. Have open discussions about what each person wants from the group. Make a list but start small like we did in my local area group.

About The Author

Carol is an aging advocate and founder of The Elder Orphan Facebook Group. She has become the authority in the aging alone population and has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, PBS, NPR, AARP, USNews, American Society on Aging, local newspapers throughout the U.S. and radio shows.

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