The following article was written by author and upcoming guest lecturer, Dr. Sara Zeff Geber.
Dr. Geber is a recipient of the “Influencers in Aging” designation by PBS’ Next Avenue. She is an author, retirement transition coach, and professional speaker on retirement and aging.
Join us at Dr. Geber’s lecture on Solo Aging – May 25th at 11am; Register by clicking here.
The Importance of Community for Solo Agers
Moving into a senior living community is a big and important decision for everyone, yet it is even more critical for those who are on their own. I use the term “Solo Ager” to represent a variety of later-life circumstances. Under my definition, a Solo Ager might be any of the following:
• An individual or couple who does not have children (with a partner or not)
• An individual who never married or had children
• An individual who lives alone since the divorce or death or a partner
• An individual or couple whose children and/or other family live far away or are estranged
I include couples in this list because none of us has a crystal ball that will reveal to us who will outlive the other.
Solo Agers are becoming more prevalent as the baby boomers assume the role of the oldest generation, partly because of how mobile we are now as a society and partly because of some demographic shifts that took place in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s: Baby boomers were the first generation to have access to the birth control pill. That was a game changer for young women at the time. Choosing to have children or stay child-free was at last within their control. At the same time, the doors of higher education and previously male-dominated career fields were also opening up to women, thanks in part to the women’s liberation movement and equal opportunity legislation that was being passed during that decade.
A Pew Research study in 2010 concluded that 19.4% of baby boomer women had never given birth to children. Fast forward to 2021 and as we look behind us we can see a soaring divorce rate that started in the late 1970s and led to many more people ending up single, some of them child-free as well. What that means for us today is that many older adults are in circumstances in which they need to look out for themselves, making the best choices they can afford for safety and security in later life.
Three Forest residents, who are also Solo Agers, took some time to tell me a little about their lives and why they made the choice to join The Forest community:
Margot and Martin Kagan came to The Forest four years ago after 47 years in Oyster Bay on Long Island and an interim stint in Fearrington, a large “active adult” community in North Carolina. Because Martin and Margot do not have children of their own, they started about 15 years ago to consider how they would take care of themselves as they got into their 80s and 90s, if and when they had to give up a car, or needed assistance with some of the everyday tasks and routines of life. They enjoyed Fearrington and had many friends there, but they realized that without any care or transportation available, they would be vulnerable in several ways as they approached their 90s.
A major turning point for them came about as a result of taking an Osher Lifelong Learning (OLLI) course called “Stay or Move On.” In it, they learned from senior living experts about the different housing choices they could make for later life. Included in the program was an opportunity to tour quite a few local continuing care retirement communities. They visited many properties and eventually chose The Forest for their new home. They love the proximity to several major universities and medical centers, both for their health and for intellectual stimulation. They also appreciated The Forest’s relatively small size, the friendliness they sensed when they visited, and the general culture/personality of the community. They also learned how critical the management company is to the success of the community.
Ellen Durrett came to The Forest four years ago when she was 65. Like Martin and Margot, Ellen does not have any biological children. She made the decision to move into a CCRC after having helped her mother move into one after her father passed away.
Having spent most of her life in Baltimore MD, Ellen likes the slower pace of life and the milder climate in North Carolina. She also appreciates the quality of Duke Health, the universities and all they have to offer older adults, and the diversity of people in the research triangle. Since she moved into The Forest, Ellen has had both hips replaced and reports that the staff at The Forest took excellent care of her, providing delivered meals and in-home physical therapy. This is important for Solo Agers because even otherwise healthy people often need these “structural adjustments” and the support needed after any kind of medical procedure.
After living through 2020 and Covid-19, she was completely convinced she had made the right move. Her friends living in Baltimore reported feeling much more isolated than she did living in the community at The Forest at Duke.
All solo agers should think long and hard about how they will spend the latter part of their lives. Good later-life planning includes not only legal and financial decisions, but also serious consideration about the social needs that will not be as easily met when we are in our 80s and 90s as they were in an earlier part of our lives. CCRCs like The Forest are terrific ways for Solo Agers to spend their later years. They offer a winning combination of community and support.