Q&A: The thought of ending up old and alone can be terrifying. It doesn’t have to be that way

Dear Liz: My wife and I have no children to take care of us in our old age, and I am scared to death regarding what will happen to the surviving spouse when one of us dies or we become incapacitated. We are 69 and 67 respectively and I think a lot of “boomers” are facing this issue. Any thoughts?

Answer: Consider getting a copy of the book “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults” by certified retirement coach Sara Zeff Geber. The NextAvenue site also has a wealth of information on how to prepare for aging and incapacity if you don’t have kids or don’t have ones you can rely on.

Geber provides far too much valuable information to summarize here, but one important strategy is to create a strong social network. Not only can this combat social isolation and loneliness — which are as dangerous to your health as smoking — but these folks can help look out for you and vice versa.

If your social circle is small or you’re out of the habit of making new friends, consider activities that put you in contact with others such as volunteering, taking classes or joining exercise groups. Also check out the Village to Village Network, a nonprofit that helps people age in place by encouraging groups of neighbors to help one another with rides, services and activities.

Living in close proximity to others and in areas with robust social services also can make a huge difference for solo agers. Another option, if you have the means, is to consider a continuing care retirement community that allows independent living to start, with assisted living and sometimes nursing home care as needed.

Every adult needs an advance healthcare directive, such as the free ones at Prepare for Your Care. These documents allow someone you trust to make health decisions if you should become incapacitated. It’s OK to name your spouse, but you also should have at least one and preferably two or more backups. Filling one out can help you think deeply about the people currently in your life you can trust with this task, and may encourage you to deepen those ranks if they’ve gotten a little thin.