Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Involvement in Community Calms Fear of Aging Alone

DEAR ABBY: I am writing about the letter from "Afraid to Be Alone" (Feb. 15), who is moving to a new state and has no family except for her husband. As a teacher of health policy and administration, I agree that she shouldn't be overanxious about her future to the point of distraction.

There are concrete steps she and her husband can take to protect themselves and have some security as they age. These include purchasing long-term care insurance, creating a living will and medical power of attorney, and communicating their wishes about heroic measures should either of them ever face that decision.

They should also look into moving to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), most of which have differing levels of care -- from assisted living to nursing home care -- with guaranteed access to its members. These are just a few of the steps "Afraid" could take now to give herself some peace of mind. -- CHRIS IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR CHRIS: Thank you for your helpful suggestions. Like you, many readers were quick to offer reassurance to "Afraid." Read on:

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I allayed our own fears by choosing to live in a community with close neighbors and many activities. Avoiding isolation is what is important. Knowing what caregiving and other support services are available also helps, whether or not they are needed right now. "Afraid's" thoughts of death, if frequent, could be a symptom of depression and should be evaluated by a doctor if they persist. -- HAPPY TO BE ALONE

DEAR ABBY: "Afraid" should take stock of her life now, and consider her interests and hobbies. Gardening, art, reading, clubs, sewing, shopping, theater, antiquing or volunteering are all possibilities for her future if the need or interest arises. Since she is worried now, she should make sure that wherever she moves accommodates these needs later in life. It's never too early to become prepared.

Last, but not least, the right pet can go a long way toward providing company and comfort. As soon as I walk in the door, I yell to my cat, "I'm home!" -- DEFINITELY NOT LONELY IN KENTUCKY

DEAR ABBY: Where are "Afraid's" current friends? Moving means nothing to true friends. My mother kept in touch with her childhood friends until her death in her 70s -- and they were spread all over the country.

Like "Afraid" I am an only child, plus I have never been married. I have a few faithful friends from high school and college who are there for me regardless of their location. I, too, would drop anything to be there for them. They mean everything to me, and I know our relationships will continue through our old age. -- GRATEFUL FOR MY FRIENDS

DEAR ABBY: You advised "Afraid" to join church and social groups. I would like to add that if she enjoys children and young adults, she should get to know her neighbors, and volunteer at the library, hospital, school or scout troop in her new area.

Children thrive on the love and stories of "grandparents" -- and they benefit from the wisdom and experience. These friendships often extend into the home, offering the joy and belonging of family. You are never alone with "family" around you. -- NANA TO ALL, IN VIRGINIA

DEAR ABBY: I suggest she look for the "learning in retirement" programs available. We joined one at a university four years ago when we moved to Greenville, S.C., and have met some wonderful people. -- CAROL K.

DEAR ABBY: We, too, spent the first 30 years of our marriage feeling like the only childless couple in the world. Then we moved to an age-restricted community. We have never been happier. Many of our new friends also have no children, and we no longer worry about aging alone. -- KAREN IN HENDERSON, NEV.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)