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An increase in the number of solo agers — older adults living alone — can provide an opportunity for senior living providers looking to attract yet another demographic.

In a new research brief based on survey responses from 805 individuals aged 55 or more years, the Mather Institute explored how solo agers plan to address their needs and concerns related to aging. 

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2021 there were 22.1 million solo agers in the nation — unmarried and childless adults who live alone and don’t have immediate family to rely on as they age. By identifying the unique needs of solo areas, the report authors said, policy makers, healthcare providers and community organizations can develop targeted long-term services and supports.

For senior living providers, the demographic presents an opportunity to sell “peace of mind” regarding future care needs for solo agers currently living in the general community, according to Mather Institute Director of Research Jennifer L. Smith, PhD. 

“An advantage of moving into senior living for a solo ager is that there is a team of people available to handle things like maintenance, clearing, cooking, etc.,” Smith told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Life plan communities, which offer a continuum of care, can provide peace of mind that there’s a path for receiving additional levels of care if it’s needed — not to mention the wellness benefits senior living communities provide to solo agers by way of socialization and engagement through programming and interactions with neighbors and team members.”

According to the report, solo agers living in the greater community reported lower well-being, including lower life satisfaction and mental health, than their “supported” agers — older adults who are married or in a long-term relationship, do not live alone, and/or have adult children on whom they can rely.

Solo agers also expressed a wide range of concerns, but their most pressing concerns — maintaining mobility and independence — were similar to those of other older adults. Other concerns included maintaining dignity, mental engagement and social connections.

Senior living providers can use the report as a wakeup call to determine whether residents who are solo agers have any additional needs the community can help address, Smith said. Actions can include providing comfortable options for residents who may not always have a dining partner, or examining whether residents who became solo agers later in life due to the loss of a spouse and/or child are receiving the support they need.

When it comes to planning for the future, there are few differences in how solo and supported agers were preparing, except for plans related to identifying caregivers, according to the report. Fewer solo agers had identified future caregivers or planned to make those arrangements, potentially delaying decisions because they plan to age in place and don’t anticipate needing care.

Smith said that it’s important for solo agers to plan for their future housing needs, whether that involves modifications to their current homes or relocating to different residences.

The report includes strategies to support solo agers’ ability to age well, including maintaining and improving physical and psychological health to help delay the need for higher levels of care in the future, cultivating a strong social support network, and creating a plan for the future that includes financial and legal considerations, housing needs and support network.