How to Cope With Being Alone When You’re Old

Don’t wait until you’re “old” to cope with your fears of aging and being alone! Here’s how to build a life of peace and happiness – and how to cope with being alone in old age – whether you’re 45 or 95.

how to cope with being aloneFind the lighter side of aging in This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humor and Dignity. Susan Moon writes about being an orphan and a matriarch following the death of her mother, how she regrets the past, how not to be afraid of loneliness, and how to regard “senior moments” as opportunities to be in the here and now. It’s a fun, insightful book that will bring acceptance and clarity to anyone who is afraid of aging.

If you recently lost your spouse, read Help for New Widows. Whether or not you’re alone in your old age, you need to hold on to hope, faith, and optimism if you’re not well physically. Love, connection, solidarity, and togetherness is what helps alleviate sad feelings of being alone when you’re old. You don’t need kin to feel loved, you don’t need biological children to feel connected, and you don’t need family to feel united.

Surround yourself with people you like. If you don’t like to be surrounded, then have coffee or a glass of wine with someone once in a while. Or take music lessons, join a MeetUp group, or start a book club.

And here are a few tips for coping with being alone when you’re old…my favorite one is to be like a caterpillar…

How to Cope With Being Alone When You’re Old

I’m writing this for T.S., who left the following comment and question on my article about coping with being childless:

“I am slowly coming to terms with the probability that my husband and I will not have biological children….we have spent more than $150,000 on fertility treatments that have gone nowhere. I am now in my late 40′s and the reality of the situation is finally dawning on me. I found comfort in your insights and advice, Laurie, and I agree that a positive attitude and enjoying life to the fullest regardless of whether one has children is the way to go. But one thing that bothers me, that I just can’t come to terms with, is the prospect that my husband and I will end up being old and alone. We are both only children and have no family where we live except for my aging parents. When they die, we will be on our own. I’m terrified of being incapacitated and unable to turn to loved ones for love, company and support. I am equally worried for my husband, that should I die first, he will have to endure this fate as well. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this and how to best deal with this possible scenario? Thanks, T.S.”

The most important tip for coping with the fear of aging alone is to remember that you’re not alone! SO MANY of us are orphans or estranged from our family members. SO MANY of us are scared to be alone as we get older, even when we’re surrounded by loved ones.

Last week, a reader asked for help coping with her husband’s death – she’s elderly and can’t envision life without him. So I wrote Starting Over in Your 60s – After Your Husband Dies. She has children, but she still feels alone, lonely, and afraid in her senior years.

Getting old can be scary – but we don’t have to let it overshadow the best parts of our lives. And, we’re not powerless — we don’t have to just sit back and worry about being alone, ill, or lonely when we’re old!

I hope these tips help you cope with the fear of being alone as you age

Having children is no guarantee of NOT being alone when you’re old

My 40 year old sister hasn’t talked to my 68 year old mother in over 10 years, and I don’t think that’ll change before my mom dies. My mom didn’t do anything wrong or bad – she is mentally ill, but she certainly doesn’t deserve to be cut out of her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives! No matter how many children you have, there’s no guarantee they’ll want to talk to you when they’re grown.

coping with being alone when I'm oldAnd, even if your kids like you, there’s no guarantee they’ll live in the same city, state, province, country, or continent as you. My husband and I live in Vancouver, BC; his parents live in Edmonton, AB. My dad lives in Jerusalem, Israel. My mom lives in Saskatchewan, and my sister is out working on the oil rigs in the wilds of Canada. I haven’t heard from her in three years. Maybe more, I can’t even keep track!

Biological kids or not, there is no guarantee you won’t be alone in your old age. Many seniors and baby boomers are alone even though they have adult children, because their kids are living their own busy lives. Adult children do not necessarily mean that older people aren’t alone – their kids may be homeless, imprisoned, or physically or emotionally unable or unwilling to be family.

If you’re caring for someone who might have to live in a care facility, read How to Help a Loved One in Hospice.

Create your own “family” – don’t count on kin to keep you company in your old age

If you don’t want to be alone in your old age, now is the time to start making friendships and building ties that will last long after you’re dead. I think that having biological kids is probably the least effective way to ensure you’re not alone as you age! There are too many unknowns. What if your child is physically or chronically ill from birth onwards? What if your child passes away before you do? What if you get divorced, and your child prefers your spouse to you?

Instead of counting on kin to keep you company or take care of you during your twilight years, start making connections with people you wish were your family. Non-family relationships can be deeper and easier than family relationships, because they come without the baggage of the past.

Never let one person or thing become the center of your life

If you only have your spouse to rely on and something happens to him, then you’ll be lost. If your career is your primary source of fulfillment and you lose your job, then you’ll be more alone than you ever thought possible – and you won’t even be that old! If your children are your only source of fulfillment and they distance themselves from you, then you’ll feel like you’ve lost everything.

To cope with being alone in your old age – to cope with all of life’s ups and downs – create a strong network of love and support. Cherish your neighbors, colleagues, old friends, hobbies, activities. If something happens to one of the most important parts of your life, then you’ll have the other ones to gain comfort from.

Pretend you’re a caterpillar: the more legs you have, the less you’ll notice if you lose one.

Be a Big Sister – maybe you’ll grow from volunteer to family member

One of the best ways to cope with being alone in your old age is to volunteer! Spend time with an at-risk youth who needs a mentor, a positive role model, through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. I was a Little Sister when I was 11 years old; my Big Sister changed my life. We’re still in touch to this day – 30 years later! She changed my life…and she never had kids. She lives inToronto, and her family lives here in BC…and I see her once a year.

scared of being old alone

How to Cope With Being Alone When You’re Old

I’m a Mentoring Coordinator with Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, and I always hear my volunteers say that their friendships with their Little Brothers went from volunteering to family. I’ve applied to be a Big Sister, and the caseworker said the same thing: your relationship with your Little changes – it’s not about volunteering anymore.

Sometimes the relationships you make when you volunteer can be deeper and better than your family. Of course, there’s no guarantee – some matches never really click, or they fade away as the years go on. But, if you’re scared of being alone in your old age, why not be conscious about the relationships you’re building with people?

Take old age one step at a time

Yes, being elderly, infirm, and incapacitated is scary and maybe even awful…but unless you’re there now, there’s no point in worrying about it. Like T.S., I don’t want to end up sick and alone in my old age. But it could happen, and there’s not much I can do about it right now…other than connect with people I like and respect, volunteer to build meaningful relationships, and enjoy each moment as it stands.

If you’re struggling with loneliness, read 7 Unexpected Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely.

What do you think about my tips on how to cope with loneliness when you’re old and alone? I welcome your thoughts below. I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to share your experience.

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25 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    Dear Hh,

    It sounds like you’ve been through a lot in your time here on earth! Lots of eye-opening experiences, lots ups and downs in your relationships.

    And yes, it can be difficult and scary to be alone when you’re reaching old age…or even if you’re middle-aged. We’re more vulnerable when we’re alone, especially when we don’t feel like we have friends. More importantly, it’s when we feel like we have nobody that understands us that we feel most alone. Connecting with people who get us is so important. It’s the wellspring of life.

    What helps me is Ecclesiastes, in the Bible. Everything is meaningless! said the Teacher. Nothing is new under the sun, it’s all for nothing. Good people and evil people both die, both suffer, both have heartaches and loss.

    I love Ecclesiastes because it shows me I’m not alone. The fears and suffering and loneliness are feelings human beings have felt since the beginning of time. It’s natural and normal to feel this existential angst, this loneliness and grief. God planted these seeds of “wanting something more” in us because He is the more! He created us, and we are at home when we are in His flow.

    To me, this means connecting with the Holy Spirit. I feel most alive in Christ – and most alive on this earth – when I turn my attention to God’s divine flow of love, peace, joy, and power. That’s how I cope with being alone in my old age – and in my illness, and in my 46th year here on earth. By allowing myself to join in with the angels who are constantly singing alleluia to Him.

    Blessings, peace, and passion!

  2. Laurie says:

    Thank you, Melinda, I really appreciate your kind words! I wish you peace and wisdom as you move forward in life, with lots of joy and love 🙂

  3. Hh says:

    Wow. Im only 32 and I seem to have the wisdom of a much older person. People have called me crazy for thinking how i do. But you guys are saying things that i already know. I know that most friends are only fair weather and won’t be there in hard times. I know that most men are selfish dogs. I know that children may or may not be around later. The human condition is bleak. We are not lovey dovey wonderful beings. Especially not most men. My only hope is to save enough money to cover my expenses and hired help. Then when it comes time for nursing home i will end my life. I actually hope i die before any of this happens. I had my first car accident a few months ago and people said i was lucky to be alive. I beg to differ. Life is often difficult, harsh and lonely.

  4. Melinda says:

    I am so grateful that I found this website. It is filled with hope. I just happened to start reading one of your articles yesterday, in which you wrote that you finally came to terms that your sister will no longer communicate with you. I am in the same situation with my brother, and it has been difficult for me to let go of the relationship. Reading your entry helped me to finally let go of my guilt, frustration, and anger. I feel at peace. I am a kind and loving person regardless of what my brother thinks (or doesn’t think) of me. Also, it was refreshing to read that you are childless and accepting that you are childless. Thank you for your entries.

  5. Laurie says:

    Thank you for being here, and sharing what it’s like to cope with being alone in your old age. I really appreciate your stories and perspectives – and I want you to know that your experience does make a difference to other readers. It helps us see we’re not alone, even if it feels like we are.

    I’m married, but my husband and I couldn’t have children. He’s a geologist who is away for 4 or 5 weeks at a time, working in the field (exploring for diamonds and gold in the northernmost parts of Canada!). I’m a full-time writer, so I spend almost all my time alone. I have 2 dogs, who really are my favorite type of company.

    But I do get lonely. I’m not old yet – I’m middle-aged – but I do understand the deep toll loneliness can take. I do find it much easier to have interests and passions. I love blogging! My Blossom blogs are my full-time job and purpose in life, and I also practice my flute every day and try to make time for painting (but I find my days full enough).

    Do you think that one way to cope with being alone in old age is to find something you’re passionate about? Something you love to do, that makes time melt away and engrosses you fully?

  6. Judy Hall says:

    I am a 64 yr old woman and I was always a busy active person but in the last few years my health has gone down hill. I have 4 Autoimmune Diseases and Parkinson’s. I had friends but as I got ill they faded away. The friends I had just didn’t know how to deal with my health problems and what to say or do to help me so they just left. Family is all gone and now I cannot get out like I use to to meet new people. I had to move to something cheaper so I bought a mobil home with cheap space rent in a senior park but I am the youngest here. Everyone I know now are in their 80’s and will be gone before long. My income is only $800 a month so I am stuck in the situation I am in. I play games online and talk to people on a Parkinson’s website and my dog keeps me company. I fall alot and my fear is I will fall and knowone will know and I will lay there alone until I can get up or die. I have made the decision that if I become unable to care for myself or start to get dementia I will end my life because I refuse to live my live in a bed not knowing who I am or not being able to do anything. Sometimes there is no answer to being alone.

  7. Libby says:

    KJ you are lucky “as long as you stay healthy and alert.”‘ That seems rather flippant , based on others responses above.
    That would be a nice dream for all of that are NOT healthy. I’m not and so being alone is not an option – it’s just how it is when you get sick enough. And you can’t then make friends and find new Bobbie etc.
    I hope you always stay healthy and alert, truly. But recognize that many of us are not, and we are alone, and there simply isn’t much to do about it. I’ve researched it like mad and tried everything I could to stay busy and in contact with others. With my health, that’s just not Possivle.
    I wish you the best and ask only that you be more heads up in how you word things about your own great and satisfying life, on a blog where many are suffering terribly.

  8. TERRY says:

    Lonely, need friends

  9. Tom says:

    I find that the blog entries are more interesting to me than the article. I am a male (59) and never married. I have not had a relationship in a long, long time and it does not look good for the future.

    I live and own a condo. I was able to purchase it because of my parents passed away and left me some money. I felt like the inheritance is equivalent to getting a long-term severance pay or pension. Because I spent many years working for them (and putting up with them).

    Just within the last few years, I feel like I don’t like living at my condo complex. I feel like I don’t fit in with the others there at all. I’m practically the only one who lives alone in the complex, so it seems like the others don’t have any room for me. Also there are many who seem very young, like the millennials; and they are so different. Very anti-social and immature.

    I have wanted to sell my place and move to a 55+ place. I would rather rent than own. If I stay where I am I will struggle financially, even when my mortgage is paid off. There’s so much repair and upkeep to do and I can’t afford it. And certainly, the people around me are not going to be better. They have become worse because so many owners had rented out.

    I have a friend who is 80 years old. He’s been married for over 50 years. He’s all against me moving He thinks that it would be a financial mistake. The rents at where I am are very high and that’s what’s stopping me. But I am miserable at where I live. I FEEL LIKE I HAVE TO THINK ABOUT MY FUTURE. And besides, who am I going to leave my place to?

  10. Caren says:

    I am a female 70 years old. 9 years ago I moved from where I lived all my live leaving all family and friends behind. I suffer with RA and Fibromyalgia. I moved from a damp wet state into sunny south Nevada. I moved into a plus 55 resort and live in a small park model which I love. Easy to care for and a nice view of mountains, with a small yard. I have had several wonderful friends whom I met here but they have all either moved back near family or have passed away. I have been in a friendship with a 70 year old man for over 3 years and we have lived together for the past year. My story sounds so much better than others………….but. I am miserable and think often of ending it all. My male partner does not help with rent and he does not treat me well. I am afraid of ending the relationship due to being alone. I have no relationship with my 2 mile children, their choice. And they are 1200 miles away. They both have drinking problems and abuse women. There are days I hurt so bad I can hardly get around. Have no one who could help me with doctor appointments or shopping for groceries. I can not see myself asking my male partner to leave. He is not around much. I sit alone most of the time. I truly am so miserable I really wish it would all just end.

    • Colleen Nielsen says:

      I am in a very similar situation and my heart goes out to you, Caren. I feel very fragile going out of my apartment for fear I will fall and not be able to get up, I have two children, but they basically have abandoned me. I too wish that I just would not wake up in the morning. This article was useless to me. I do not know who would want to be with me in my apartment. There is no way to make friends when I can’t leave the house. I wish you well and hope your male friend treats you the way you should be treated.

  11. Guyla Galindo says:

    there is no answer, no humor, no purpose, no one cares. i thought i was having a heart attack the other night, and was actually excited i might die. medicare doesn’t cover any of my health issues. prescriptions are too expensive to purchase. Family is cruel. you don’t even want to hear this.

    • Colleen Nielsen says:

      How sad it is that so many of us reading this article feel abandoned and alone. I have meds that I cannot afford to fill and fell helpless also. Obamacare has not been kind to the elderly. No one cares about me either. I wish all of those of us posting could somehow support each other so we felt someone cared. Not all families are horrible. I guess I did something wrong while raising my children to make them so selfish and have no empathy for me now that I am old and need help.

  12. KJ StPierre says:

    I really love doing many things alone and how to enjoy my world, so I don’t see it as a problem as long as I can stay healthy and alert.

    • Sandi says:

      Yup, staying healthy…. that’s the kicker. I used to be healthy and I had a blast out in this world running around, kicking up my young heels!! I was a Head Start teacher. I remember the kids singing at our Christmas programs …. and every day was fun. I played flute in the church praise band, had a great group of good friends. Wow…. whose life was that? Certainly not mine, not this broken older woman struggling along, barely walking, with an exploded bowel, a colostomy bag, osteonecrosis in both hips, arthritis everywhere, herniated discs, and not a tooth in her head. When you’ve got your health, you’ve got *almost* everything. Most days are spent lonely and in pain and if I could, I would leave this world too.

  13. Paul says:

    It really does suck for us Good men that never met the right woman which if we had been that Blessed from the very beginning which we could’ve been all settled down by now with our own Good wife and family that many of us still DON’T have today.

    • Colleen Nielsen says:

      I wish you had found the love of your life, but that would not have guaranteed you would have someone now. I was married for 42 years and my “good guy” kicked me out of the house. I have so many medical problems and have no one to help now. He got the house and turned my girls against me. Now I am old, alone, and poor.

  14. John Ferth says:

    While this will not answer the problem of being alone, but there is the saying ” It is better to be
    alone than wishing to be alone”, and even worse – being alone together…

  15. Sylvia says:

    This advice is so lame. The question was “How to live alone when you’re old,” not “How to live with a lot of friends when you’re old.” Here’s advice. Try to keep positive. Don’t give up. Netflix.

  16. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen says:

    Dear Susan,

    I’m glad you’re here – it’s a pleasure to “meet” you! I know you’re not alone in wondering how to cope with being alone, and maybe feeling like you’re old. This article gets lots of traffic, but not many readers comment.

    When I was reading through your words, I thought that if I were you, I’d need to find purpose in my life. Me, I go to church because it draws me closer to God and gives me joy, peace, and strength. I love God – that’s my purpose in life. If you go to church just to meet people, you’re missing out on the true reason for church. Community is a secondary reason for going to church – an important one, for sure! – but meeting people has to come second to your faith and relationship with God. So maybe that’s why you didn’t form any lasting relationships at church, because you were there for the wrong reason.

    If I were you, I’d change my situation by finding meaningful, purposeful things to do in my life. That’s where you’ll connect with people who want to be with you! Volunteer somewhere, perhaps at a seniors home or with kids in your neighborhood. What are your interests? Find some way to volunteer in that capacity.

    I find it really difficult to make friends. The older I get, the harder it is. But I’ve learned that the more people I meet, the more likely I’ll meet someone I connect with. The trick is to keep meeting people who have the same interests as you, and you’ll find yourself not feeling so lonely.

    You might also consider joining a support group for moms of adult children with emotional or psychological health issues. It sounds like it’s a bit stressful to live with your son, especially since he got shot in the head. Find ways to cope with the stress – one of the best ways is to meet other parents in similar situations. Join a parenting support group, or a single moms’ support group.

    My prayer is that you find meaning in your life. May your life be filled with purposed, joy, and peace. May you make strong, fulfilling relationships in your life – and may you find yourself busier, happier, and more content than you ever thought possible!


  17. Susan says:

    I am 62 I live with my son. He is 38 he is a good guy in a lot of ways. In many ways he makes my life more difficult. He has borderline personality disorder and was shot in the head a little over a year ago. His personality disorder and his head wound makes him violently angry very often. He is unable to work any longer I have applied for his disability, but right now he has no income. This makes me having a relationship of any kind almost impossible. I don’t know when he will explode. I have a beautiful daughter and granddaughters, they don’t come around any more. I have no relationship with them really. I feel so alone most of the time. I watch TV most of the time. I have never felt more alone. My son stays in his room most of the time with the door shut. I am afraid to try to talk to him often. I don’t know how to change my situation. I have tried going to church, people seem friendly, but they don’t care about you really. I tried going to the local bar and people seem friendly, but I can’t seem to form any kind of relationship. I was in a very abusive relationship with my husband for 14 years. I got remarried a couple of times, but I haven’t been able to recover from the abuse. I find it so hard to trust anyone. I spent most of my life caring for others. I took care of my mother who lived with me the last 5 years of her life. My daughter lived with me with her daughter, my son and his baby mama, her oldest daughter and my son’s daughter all lived with me. I started a daycare so I could be at home to care for everyone. I was so busy taking care of everyone that was my entire life. My son and his daughter both lived with me, now I really have no relationship with anyone not even my son and he lives here. I am lost any ideas?

  18. Laurie says:

    Dear Laura,

    Thank you for being here – I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your life.

    It sounds like you’re coping with a lot right now – not “just” aging! There seems to be so many negative, disheartening influences in your life right now. And you’re young! I don’t think you look your age, because you have a 44 year old boyfriend 🙂

    I’m curious – what advice would you give the “younger” you? If you were to talk to yourself when you were 20 years younger, what would you say?

  19. Laura Morris says:

    I am terrified of being alone. I am 58, haave been told I don’t look my age, but have no way to gauge this, only that I look in the mirror and see this old woman and it scares me so bad I won’t look in teh mirror. I try to connect with the church, but there is no faith there. It’s all hogwash and petty politeness. I am severely hearing impaired, and I have visited churches with deaf ministies as I have been a teacher for the deaf and know fluent sign.No connections there and have to travel long distances in a car that could break down any minute. Catching the bus is an option, but I’ve really gottaa be committed to doing this. For some reason, hard to drag myself away from TV, leaving voicemails no one ever answers, dealing with with mental illness, brought on by years of being in traumatic abusive family.
    I am dating a 44 ywear old man, who is himself digging his way out of horrid financial dilemna. he can’t give me alot of time, because right now, his number one priority in life is to get himself on track, following a very traumatic series of explosions in his personal and financial life. I tend to rely on him, and put all my energy into dissecting the relationship because I live in a very negative place: a home for the elderly. I am disabled and the widows here are about twenty years older than me.
    For the fist time, I am experiencing constant pain.
    My daughter is a drug addict who is a felon. My sisters don’t want me. Never loved me, and have been violent towards me. I have so many issues that I can only stand in amazement that I wake up alive everyday, and for awhile there, writing a book that I made myself do until the pain hit two weeks aago. I’m going to a doctor, but that’s awful, health insurance for disabled pople is not good in this country and doctors can be so unkind. So, I love this guy, but he is focusing on himself and may not be there for me in the end, although he says he does.
    Getting back to the man I am dating,who says he loves me and put a little diamond on my finger that his grandfather ahd for many years and he found for me when I kept asking him for it—dear God! However,he has so many wonderful qualities. He is kind, honest and faithful. However, he is caught up in himself right now and self centered as a way of coping. If I let people do it, they tell me to get out of the relationship. I listen to all these opinions, instead of focusing that He doesn’t have enough time to spend with me and haas alot of time, left on this earth, compared to me. I have too much time, and not as much time left. So wee are at opposite poles. Breaking up with him is not going to do any good, cuz I am going to go right back to him in the end, and not going to solve the problem. I want to think he is going to be there for me and will undig himself and be with me one day. I tmay never happen, it may. i have no control over this.
    , I don’t know how to fill up the emptiness when he is not around. I need a support network. Where do I find people who like me? It amazes me that Doug loves me. Or says he does then I doubt it, and I really go around and around.
    Now, youhave it. Isn’t that ridiculous? this is my life. Dear God it sounds like a dull, bad, scary nightmare. Who wants to come near me? I am a boil getting ready to burst. Geez!

  20. Laurie says:

    Hi Sabrina,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment! I agree that a church family makes a huge difference to coping with being alone as we age. I’ve been part of a church for most of my life, and have loved all the families that have come and gone out of my life 🙂

    How do you know you won’t be living with a companion – or be married if you don’t believe in living with a partner before marriage – when you’re “older”?

    If you’re an active woman with a healthy social life, you won’t die in your apartment without anyone knowing. Build connections into your day, so if something did happen to you, someone would know.

    Although, come to think of it, I could spend a week alone and not miss human connection. I love being alone! Maybe I should be the one worried about dying and not being found for days…. 😉


  21. Sabrina says:

    I really enjoyed this blog entry. It tells a lot of truths about aging and being alone. Sometimes I do get afraid of aging alone. Not so much due to lack of companionship but for more practical matters: what if I fall ill and no one is there to help me. My biggest fear is dying and no one finding me for days on end! Mind, I try not to dwell on that, but I’d be lying that I haven’t wept at the idea of ending up like that. I think of maybe moving into a roomate situation but then you never know what you get with that, and while my daughter and I do get alone, I don’t wish to be a burden to her as she does have a family of her own now. Fortunately, I do have a good church ‘family” that makes a lot of difference. At any rate, I’m happy to see someone out there adressing these very real issues regarding aging.

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