Today’s older adults are typically more independent than their parents’ generation. Aging Americans are increasingly choosing to age in place instead of moving into an assisted living facility, willing to put effort into staying in their home and their familiar community.
But this independence can come with the pitfall of becoming too isolated, especially if the extended family members are living divergent lives, perhaps not even in the same country.
To ward off this potential isolation, it’s crucial for mental and emotional well-being to maintain social activities and networks, even if a senior lives alone.
Seniors today enjoy an entire infrastructure of support, with senior centers and clubs, and even travel groups for the elderly. Taking classes to learn something new – or to teach something you know well – is also one of the more enriching and rewarding activities for older people.
In similar vein, volunteering in the local community or with an online platform can keep you almost as busy as when you worked, with the benefit of doing it because you want to, and with no other gain than the great satisfaction of helping others.
And while not everyone is a party animal who can just reach out and join in social events, these more structured activities tend to generate their own associated social enjoyments.
Retirement hopefully brings more free time, and before we fill it up with our own new activities, we can spare a lot more for family. Children and grandchildren lead busy lives, and grandparents can pick up an enormous amount of the stressful activity, simply from having the time.
It may be time to raise kids again, with babysitting volunteer duty, helping grandkids with homework or picking them up from school. Supporting grandkids in their extra-curricular school and non-school activities can relieve a lot of the pressure from the parents – and organizing field trips with an element of fun to them will bring smiles to everyone’s face.
Family vacations can be anything from a long weekend at your local riverside to a couple of weeks in another country. The elders of the family can make a large contribution here, with time to do the online research and booking, and making sensible itineraries that can cater to each generation.
With different schedules in conflict in your family and social networks, fall back on technology, with online calendars to schedule events and chats, video calls and games with the kids, virtual watch parties for a favorite TV show, and even cooking dinner together over Zoom with friends.
It’s not easy to keep connections strong when you aren’t living nearby. How do you continue to share those small, meaningful moments in their day-to-day lives? You have a couple of options here. You can lean on technology to bridge the distance, or you can cross the distance yourself.
Video calls and games aren’t your only options. Social media lets all generations keep their loved ones updated and reach out when they can’t be there in person. Each platform has its own style that offers different ways to connect – explore to find the best ones for your connections.Technology cuts both ways too, as caregivers and younger family members are now more easily able to track their elder relatives with life alert devices, fall detection, and other automated communication systems.
At the opposite end of modern technology, consider bringing back pen pals (there are even online platforms to find new pen pals). Writing a letter is charmingly retro in this day and age. It also gives the recipient plenty of time to read and respond. And a letter will stick around longer than a text, which can get buried in a flood of other messages. Real paper adds a lot of meaning over distance, when people are far away from each other.
There may be another option for bridging the distance, especially if as you get older you start thinking about downsizing to a more convenient or senior-accessible home. Why not move closer to family? The option’s not right for everyone, but it may be right for you. This might mean moving to the same state, city, or even into a shared home.
Moving in together with different generations of family or friends obviously can present challenges, but overall it offers a lot of benefits. You can build stronger relationships with family members and friends, as well as reaping the rewards from combining resources and support through the ups and downs of life and the economy.
Living together in a multi-generational home can have financial implications for the people involved. You’ll need to hammer out budgets, expectations, and what to do with your existing belongings. You will also want to create a plan for your estate. Are there any tax, insurance, or inheritance changes to expect? There are several legal benefits and pitfalls involved in combining households.
It’s best to talk to professionals with expertise in elder law, tax and estate planning so you don’t make expensive mistakes. But with all the ducks properly in a row, living independently and also among other people can offer the best of both worlds as we get older.