DURHAM, N.C. – Clydie Pugh-Myers, one of the state's first black licensed practical nurses, once drove a red Cadillac around Durham, sang in the choir at her church and generally stayed busy.
These days, living with two knee replacements, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other ailments, she can no longer drive and sits at home alone a lot. She says even people from her church don't come to see her much.
"Since I've gotten 84, it's gotten tough," Pugh-Myers said in her South Durham home.
Like Pugh-Myers, roughly three out of 10 North Carolinians older than 65 live alone, as do 12 million people nationally. As the state's over-65 population reaches a million, the percentage and raw numbers of older people living alone will also increase, the result of the flood of baby boomers, many of whom have divorced, never married or will outlive spouses.
Researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based AARP Foundation have pinpointed social isolation as a factor, along with housing, income and hunger, that can lead to catastrophe for older people. Stacks of medical studies tie living alone to increased rates of physical and mental illness, another indication that rising Medicare costs will be even tougher to contain.
Keys to Successful Aging
Faced with the alternative of long-term care, most older people prefer to live alone, but it's not easy and there are emotional and physical risks. The keys to successful "aging in community" involve support from family and sometimes government, advocacy in health care, keeping up mobility, access to transportation and social involvement.
For example, Pugh-Myers has a background in health care and help from family and government-paid caregivers to protect her from some of the worst consequences of living alone.
"I stay alone so far," she said. "It's a tough life, but God's good. I've got two or three friends. When I was working, I had a whole lot of friends."
Read the compete story: All the Lonely People: How We Live Alone Past 65