How Senior Women Aging Alone Can Find Support Networks
Our motive to create a support system extends beyond the need for social connection and to avoid loneliness. Many women, especially those of us without an immediate family, are at risk of isolation and spending too much time alone.
Even a few of my divorced female friends with adult children have a big desire for support, close bonds, and nurturance. At one point, they had a strong family unit, but over time it dispersed.
Children moved away or became estranged, spouses and partners separated, divorced, or died, and siblings lost touch or died as well. Many single women, like me, prefer living alone but that’s not to say we don’t want friends, activity, and other special bonds.
We are social beings with a need to be involved and to have meaningful engagements. Social interaction is important to each of us, and it’s one of the basic needs of human life.
Having social interactions gives a greater sense of purpose and a sense of motivation that makes us behave in ways that are better for our health.
Beyond Engagement to the Need for Care
In older age, as support systems shrink, the need for someone to check in on us, bring food if we’re sick, offer a ride to an appointment, and run errands for us, are things we must prepare for.
It’s one thing to be strong and independent when all is rosy in our world, but when our strength and health diminish, even if it’s just for a few days, the tables turn.
Years ago, when I had the flu, I literally could not get out of bed. I was too weak. A friend cared enough to leave soup and bread at my doorstep and drove me to urgent care.
The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee confirmed that older Americans are unlikely to have the level of support from family caregivers that they enjoyed in the past. Retiring adults today are also less likely to have children who can take care of them.
In 2014, The Lancet reported that the world’s population is aging rapidly at an unprecedented rate. The proportion of people aged over 60 years will double from about 11% to 22% between 2020 and 2050.
The aging of the global population has profound implications for the burden of disease and social and health-care systems. Unfortunately, most countries are not able to keep up with these changing demographics.
The elderly care systems worldwide are already unable to address the soaring demand from the fast growing numbers of older people, even in higher-income countries.
A more age-friendly approach is needed to ensure healthy aging with dignity. That’s the main reason I moved to an urban location.
Build a Network of Support
But where do we start? That was my dilemma six years ago. My friend and support network had dwindled. I lived in an isolated world with few people to connect with. And that had to change.
If you’re in a similar situation and feel lonely, please know that it is not your fault. Nor is it something to be ashamed of. By embracing this truth, you are already more than halfway to building the social life that you deserve.
That’s where I started. It was slow-going at first but in time and with effort, my level of engagement with others shifted.
Assess Your Social and Support Wellbeing
Social connectedness (or lack of it) can give you a place at the table or keep you out of the room altogether.
How satisfied and fulfilled are you with the quality of your relationships and social connections? Rate the following statements by giving each of them a value using a scale from 1 to 10; 1 being a “difficulty or complete dilemma” and 10 representing “wow, this feels good.”
- Daily social interactions
- Enjoyable activities
- Giving support
- Perceived community
- Pet ownership
- Social integration
- Social network size
Evaluate Your Support Community
Next, use the same evaluation method to measure your support community by rating the statements below.
- If you wanted to go on a trip for a day, have lunch out, or go to the movie, would you have a hard time finding someone to go with you?
- Do you have someone to talk to about private worries and fears?
- If you were sick, would you easily find someone to help you with your daily chores?
- Is there someone you can turn to for advice about handling problems?
- When you need suggestions on how to deal with a personal problem, do you know someone to turn to?
- Do you get invited to do things with others?
- If you had to go out of town for a few weeks, would it be difficult to find someone who would look after your house or apartment (the plants, pets, garden, etc.)?
- If you were stranded 10 miles from home, is there someone you could call who would come and get you?
How many 1s and 10s did you come up with? If you got more 1s, it’s quite likely that you’re not in the room altogether and may feel disconnected and alone.
Start taking action to improve the feelings of separation. Here’s how to raise your social connectedness.
Explain why you need and want this change, listing each of your reasons. When it feels challenging to stick to your commitment, you can reflect back to these reasons to help you hang in there.
Because I guarantee you will want to throw in the towel at times when it gets hard to follow through.
Remember, though, this is not an overnight, once-and-for-all done deal. It took me seven years to start living my dream of a connected urban lifestyle. (I’m just hoping to speed it up for you.)
In my next article, I’ll take you step by step through the process of creating a more connected lifestyle.
How often do you feel lonely and isolated? Do you have a social network you can depend on in time of need? How big is it? Do you reciprocate and help out when others need you? Are you ready to begin living a vivid social life? How do you plan to go about it? Please share your thoughts, experiences, fears, and expectations!