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Homesharing In Retirement Can be A Financial Safeguard As Well As A Solution To Loneliness And Isolation

Thanks to some rigorous studies in recent years, we now know that social isolation is a key factor in predicting early mortality. In fact, it is more closely linked to mortality than obesity or high cholesterol. However, social isolation cannot be defined simply as living alone. In fact, more people live alone today than ever before, not just in North America, but in almost all developed, open societies. And people who live alone (solos) are not at all an unhappy bunch. Throughout midlife, those who live alone report relatively high levels of happiness. 

But does that carry into our older years? It may not, and for a variety of reasons. The first of which is the makeup of our social network.  In midlife, most people who live alone spend most of their waking hours at work.  Even if that means working from home (permanently; not just because of COVID), there is still considerable interaction with co-workers or clients. For many solos, the connections they make at work extend to their off-hours as well. It’s not uncommon for a midlife solo to describe their social circle as including mostly people they know from work. Others, especially those who work from home, may derive their social life from contacts they met initially at their place of worship or the gym or a hobby group. 

So, what changes as people get into their 70s, 80s, and 90s? For starters, work friends begin to retire and may move away to be closer to children or other family members. When that everyday interaction ceases, the friendship that was based on a mutual interest in the challenges of the lab or the human resources department or the construction site may begin to fade away. It’s a very human out-of-sight, out-of-mind syndrome. 

For solos, other common challenges of growing older may arise to interrupt our ability to nurture friendships as well. We may begin to experience health challenges and/or mobility challenges. Our eyesight or hearing may become diminished as we add on the years. All of these things make it more challenging to live alone.  They also may eventually lead to feelings of loneliness that we never experienced before.  

We are social animals. Never in the history of humankind have so many people found it preferable to live alone.  However, that decision is not immutable. Living solo can become very isolating in later years. Isolation leads to loneliness and loneliness often leads to depression––not a very attractive way to spend the final years of life. 

Fortunately, there are other options. Probably the simplest one is to move in with a friend – old or new, same age or younger. Sharing the day-to-day ups and downs with someone can provide a sense of security and companionship that is elusive for solos trying to age-in-place on their own. 

However, loneliness and security are not the only reasons for sharing a home. Silvernest, the number-one home-sharing resource and database company is the U.S., recently completed a small study on attitudes of homeowners about aging-in-place and found that although over 80% of their respondents said it was important for them to stay in their homes as long as possible, 25% are concerned about their finances as they age. Sharing a home can not only provide companionship and security, it can also be a way to earn an income in those later years. In Silvernest’s study, 44% of the respondents said they would consider homesharing, and 26% said they are more likely to consider homesharing than they were five years ago. 

The shifts in attitude that are apparent in this study seem like a good indication that people are looking less rigidly at how they will spend their later years. Covid-19 is certainly one reason for this attitude shift. In fact, the study showed that 9% said the pandemic caused then to spend some of their retirement savings and 6% reported this was caused by being forced into retirement earlier than expected.

Taking a broader perspective, looking seriously at options we may not have considered five or ten years ago can be a much healthier way to view those later years and thinking earlier rather than waiting for a crisis can be life-saving.

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