Navigating the Challenges of Solo Aging

January 19, 2024
6 min
Dr. Michael Madison, CEO

In a recent article by Katy Read in the Star Tribune titled “St. Paul consultant helps 'solo seniors' deal with dilemmas of aging”, Judith Coggins speaks about her end of lifecare experience. In 2021, she found herself facing the reality of her mortality after the sudden death of her younger brother. This event prompted her to consider the aspects of her own death and who would handle her affairs. Coggins, a 78-year-old Minneapolis resident with no children or living siblings, falls into a category known as "solos", “solo seniors” or "solo agers". This term refers to individuals who lack the traditional support structure of family as they age and require different sources of assistance. They no longer have anyone in a position to aid, support and represent them as they age. This concept of solo aging is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society where individuals find themselves navigating the complexities of growing old, alone.

In the article, Linda J. Camp, an independent consultant based in St. Paul, has been actively raising awareness about the predicament of solo seniors in a society that tends to assume everyone has someone to rely on during their later years. Linda has conducted extensive research and advocacy to address the systemic issues affecting solos. She emphasizes the need for a big-picture perspective, focusing on systemic changes rather than individual assistance. Camp's efforts include encouraging local organizations for older adults to form groups specifically addressing the needs of solo agers. The number of solo agers is challenging to track accurately due to the diverse factors contributing to their situations. Camp's research indicates that 17% of Minnesotans aged 65 or older may be considered solo agers, with this percentage expected to rise in the coming years. Efforts to address the challenges faced by solo agers are sporadic, with some local initiatives providing assistance but lacking a cohesive and comprehensive approach.

Solo agers may encounter difficulties in day-to-day activities, such as transportation and meals, and this may lead to an increased risk of social isolation. Health care providers often require someone to accompany individuals undergoing medical procedures, creating additional hurdles for solo agers. Issues related to managing finances and making end-of-life decisions further compound the challenges these individuals face. Advance care planning is a crucial aspect of ensuring that individuals, particularly solo agers, have a voice in their medical decisions, especially towards the end of their lives. This process involves making decisions about the care one would like to receive if they become unable to communicate or make decisions for themselves. It encompasses a range of considerations, including appointing a healthcare proxy or assigning healthcare power of attorney.

As the solo aging population continues to increase, addressing their unique needs becomes imperative. Camp's efforts, alongside the formation of supportive groups, offer a promising step toward creating awareness, fostering connections, and paving the way for a more inclusive and supportive approach to aging in our communities. Thanacare’s effort focuses on solo agers and their assignments of healthcare surrogates, or more commonly referred to as power of attorney.

“Assigning a healthcare power of attorney through advance care planning is particularly relevant in advocating for end-of-life care preferences,” said Michael Madison, CEO of Thanacare. “It enables solo agers to choose someone they trust to make decisions that align with their values, beliefs, and preferences.” This legal designation is crucial for ensuring that the individual's desires regarding life-sustaining treatments, palliative care, and other critical aspects of end-of-life care are honored. Moreover, advance care planning goes beyond the legalities – it fosters open communication about end-of-life wishes, which may evolve over time. It encourages solo agers to engage in meaningful conversations with their designated decision-makers, ensuring that there is a clear understanding of their values and preferences. This communication is invaluable, as it establishes a foundation for trust and ensures that the chosen advocate is well-informed about the individual's desires.

Solo aging is challenging enough. Thanacare exists to ease advance care planning for this population through our elevated end-of-life care platform. We support efforts like Linda’s by making advance care planning accessible and easy, using technology and expert clinicians to simplify the process of end-of-life planning. If you are a solo ager, or know someone who is, and are interested in scheduling with one of our Advocates to create or update your own advance care plan, please visit our Schedule page.