As of 2019, there were over 54 million adults aged 65 or older living in the United States, about 15% of the total population, according to a report issued in 2021 from the federal Administration on Aging. Most older adults living in the community – about 6 out of 10 – live with a spouse or partner. But not everyone does.
The federal report found that just over a quarter (27%) of American seniors living in the community lived alone.
If you’re among the more than 1 in 4 American seniors who’s living alone, then you probably know the downsides of being on your own. Because while there are perks to a solo lifestyle, it’s not always easy living life without the people you love around you. And for some, living alone can create real health problems, too, like feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, living alone doesn’t mean you have to be alone, at least not all the time. You can combat the loneliness that creeps up in a solitary life. Looking for a place to start?
From taking care of your mind and body to enlisting the support of a robotic care companion, here are four great ways to improve your solitary situation.
#1) Take care of your mind & body.
You’ve probably heard your whole life to eat your veggies and get some exercise. Well, it’s good advice. Eating well, staying active and getting enough sleep form the basic trifecta of good physical health.
Start with a good diet. It might be tempting to eat whatever you want now that you’re on your own, but maintaining a balanced diet could help you avoid developing certain health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease or even some types of cancer. Eating well may also boost your mood and help prevent depression, a common risk of living alone.
Include lots of whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains, along with lean meats and plenty of liquid. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor for advice about nutrition. Your doctor might even recommend seeing a nutritionist or dietitian to help you create a meal plan that works for your needs.
Avoid so-called “empty calories,” or foods that have a lot of calories without giving you much nutrition in return. Typical offenders include processed snacks, like chips and sodas, as well as baked goods and alcohol.
If the idea of cooking a healthy meal for yourself seems daunting, consider inviting over a friend or family member once a week (or as schedules allow) to share it with you. Not only can sharing a meal motivate you to eat well, it can also help combat the loneliness of eating alone.
Moving your body on a regular basis can help you ward off many of the side effects of aging. But how much exercise do you need? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults – those aged 65 or older – need about 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, such as a brisk walk. (If you’re up for it, you could do 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, like hiking, instead.) The CDC also recommends two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities and three days a week of activities that improve your balance.
If that sounds like a lot, don’t sweat it. There are actually ways to get all of the daily recommended movement activities in with what the CDC calls “multicomponent physical activity.” This just means activities that combine all the elements: aerobic, muscle strengthening and balance. Examples include gardening, tai chi, yoga and dancing.
Before starting a new exercise routine or activity, check in with your doctor. You might have limitations or concerns to consider first. Your doctor can tell you whether certain activities might be riskier for you based on your current needs.
Not sure you can stick with an exercise regimen? Consider enlisting the help of a neighbor or friend, if you can. Staying active with a buddy is more likely to keep you motivated. But if you don’t have friends nearby or neighbors who can join you for a daily walk around the block, try:
- Regular classes at your local gym or YMCA
- Online workout videos designed specifically for seniors
- Going for a walk at a populated park
If you have Medicare Advantage, your plan may cover fitness classes through Silver Sneakers or another related benefit. Check your coverage to see about any gym membership benefits you might have. If you have Original Medicare and local classes are too pricey, look into free videos online to help you get started.
Get enough (good) sleep.
Good sleep is just as essential to your health as eating vegetables and moving your body. That’s because your whole body requires regular recharging. Like other adults, seniors need about 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep every night. Without good sleep, you might feel irritable or depressed, and you may even have more memory problems and more accidents.
Insomnia is common in older adults. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer with it, though. If you’re not sleeping well, talk to your doctor about why. Consistently poor sleep may be the result of something beyond your control, like a health problem that needs to be addressed, or something you can control, like a good sleep routine. Either way, get it checked out so you can get the shut-eye you need.
Don’t forget about your mental health, too.
Just as taking care of your body will help you in your day-to-day living, keeping your mind sharp may help you deal with the stress of living alone. According to MedlinePlus, mental health – your emotional, psychological and social well-being – can impact how you handle stress, relate to other people and make decisions.
There are lots of ways to take care of your mental health, some of which are tied to things like eating well, staying active and getting enough sleep. (It’s all connected, after all.) But beyond a basic healthy lifestyle, try to incorporate other ways to boost your mental health. That might include:
- Learning a new skill
- Tapping into your creative side
- Scheduling regular friend dates
Try engaging your mind, too, with activities designed to enhance cognition. Working puzzles, doing brain games, learning new languages or skills, and trying new experiences can all help support cognitive health.
#2) Get your very own robot.
You read that right, though “robot” might be an overly simple way to describe this live-in care companion. ElliQ, a desktop device designed exclusively for older adults living alone, is, as the company describes it, a “sidekick for healthier, happier aging.”
Created by Intuition Robotics, ElliQ was developed in response to the growing need to combat loneliness among America’s seniors. Like other voice-activated robotic assistants – think Alexa on Amazon devices or Siri on the iPhone – ElliQ can play music, set schedules and reminders, and tell you if it’s going to rain. But this is where the similarities end.
That’s because ElliQ goes beyond the call of duty for your average robotic assistant. In fact, the company likes to think of ElliQ more like a roommate. Along with basic functions like scheduling and weather reports, this cognitive AI-based tabletop friend can also help you:
- Maintain your health. One of ElliQ’s featured functions is to help you set and keep track of your wellness goals, both physically and mentally. You can use it to keep your mind sharp by playing cognitive games; practice mindfulness and stress reduction techniques; and even get your daily exercise in with a library of activity videos. And, if you give ElliQ permission, it can contact your loved ones if there’s a health problem and you need assistance.
- Connect with loved ones. ElliQ also helps you stay in touch with the people you love with features like digital greeting cards and a connected picture frame. You can also use ElliQ to message friends and family via voice, text and even video calls.
- Keep your conversation skills sharp. Living alone comes with a lot of challenges, some of which are easier to overcome than others. Conversation, though, can be tough to come by. ElliQ isn’t a reactive piece of technology. It’s proactive. The device learns about your interests and habits and takes these things into consideration when talking back. In other words, ElliQ offers conversation, not just information, a key difference between it and your phone’s virtual assistant.
If the idea of a robot replacing human connection feels a little too sci-fi for you, don’t worry. ElliQ’s creators never envisioned it as a stand-in for authentic, human companionship. “We don’t ever see ElliQ serving as a means to replace human connections altogether,” says Assaf Gad, VP Strategy and GM at Intuition Robotics Inc. “Rather, it can provide us with a tool to augment and enhance our social engagement and make better connections between humans.”
ElliQ can supplement your other connections, helping you keep up with your conversation skills while providing other benefits. It’s all about empowerment. “ElliQ is there to fill the void when no one is around or available, supporting older adults in remaining independent and thriving at home,” says Gad.
While new to the market, ElliQ packs a powerful punch. As of 2021, the proactive care companion has spent more than 100,000 collective days in seniors’ homes across the country. And in May 2022, the company collaborated with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) to provide ElliQ to over 800 seniors in New York. Recognizing the impact that a device like this can have for people who feel isolated at home, NYSOFA incorporated ElliQ as part of the agency’s broader efforts to combat social isolation.
ElliQ is the first device of its kind, a helpful, friendly desktop robot that may help combat the loneliness of living alone. To learn more about ElliQ, check out its features here.
#3) Start a book or special interest club.
Now that you’ve got some extra time to devote to your hobbies, consider starting a special interest group for like-minded souls. That could mean a monthly book club, a tour group that visits local historic hotspots, or even a simple weekly discussion group that meets in your living room to talk about a shared love of exotic cuisine. You could also:
- Join Facebook groups for special interests
- Attend niche events held by your local library
- Take some self-improvement classes online or at a community college
- Schedule weekly video calls with friends who don’t live close
Hobbies don’t just fill time. They keep you engaged and active, which can help guard against the negative effects of aging. So whether it’s a daily walk with some neighborhood pals or a weekly cup of coffee with a group of Jane Austen aficionados, staying socially active is a great way to enhance your quality of life.
How do you start a special interest group? Chances are that you can find a few other people who love what you love. But if no one comes to mind immediately, check to see if there’s a senior center in your area, or a local YMCA. These kinds of places typically host community events or can help you connect with other older adults in your area. You could also join the AARP Virtual Community Center, an online hub for self-improvement classes and virtual events.
Plenty of seniors live alone these days. Forming a community of people with a shared interest can help you build a better environment for yourself all around.
#4) Get involved in the community.
If you live alone and you’re retired, put that extra free time to good use by getting out in the world. More specifically, your world, i.e., your community. Volunteer work is a great way to give back while also boosting your own health. Science backs this idea up, too. Research suggests that giving back to your community can, among other things:
- Reduce stress
- Lower rates of anxiety or depression
- Promote self-esteem
- Lower blood pressure
The best part is that there are so many ways to volunteer, from reading books to kids at the library to organizing for a political campaign that you support. Ideas include:
- Playing with and walking animals at a local shelter
- Organizing charity events
- Becoming a poll worker during election season
- Collecting goods to donate for different organizations
- Sorting and cataloging donations at your area food bank
- Overseeing lunch or recess at a nearby school
- Rocking newborns at your local hospital
Consider your interests and causes, and put those passions into action. You don’t need to spend all of your hard-earned free time volunteering. But offering your time and energy to support a good cause will brighten someone’s day – and your own.
Note: Some volunteer opportunities may require extra steps, like getting a background check to be on school property or in certain hospital areas. Check your state or local guidelines to learn more about any extra steps if these kinds of things appeal to you.