More and more older people are finding themselves alone as they age, without a spouse or children who can help them as their care needs change. You may have heard the term “elder orphans” to describe this phenomenon. It’s estimated that 22 percent of older adults today fall in this category, and the number will rise.
Many people in this category dislike the term “elder orphan.” They prefer terms such as “solo agers,” “kinless seniors” or “single agers.” Whatever term we use, it’s clear that more and more people will fall into this category as they need care in later years. Four demographic changes are behind this trend:
- People are living longer. In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that by the year 2030, 20 percent of people living in the U.S. will be older than 65. Today’s seniors are living longer—but their later years are likely to be marked with disability to a slightly greater degree than their parents due in part to the greater rate of obesity.
- Baby boomers had fewer children than did their parents—many had none at all. Census Bureau demographer Jonathan Vespa said, “The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. By 2035, there will be 78 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.4 million under the age of 18.”
- More people are divorced or never married. The divorce rate for people age 55 to 64 has more than doubled in the past 25 years, meaning seniors are less likely to have a spouse to help care for them. There is also an increase in people who never married or partnered.
- Seniors may be “orphaned” by distance. Families may drift apart over the years for various reasons, meaning fewer older people may be able to rely on their adult children or siblings for care.
For solo agers, it’s important to plan ahead. Experts suggest creating a care plan well before you’ll need it. Here are a few things to consider.
Create a Care Plan
Arrange For People Who Can Help
Some solo agers ask a trusted friend to serve as their financial and/or health representative. Others may have a more distant relative who could be called upon—a cousin, niece, or sibling. Financial planning is vital, as well. An elder law attorney and financial adviser can help.
Make a Plan For Care
We all hope we’ll remain healthy and independent well into our later years. But odds are we’ll be living with mobility, sensory, or cognitive challenges. Put advance directives into place and name a healthcare proxy. Learn about the various types of senior care communities, home care, and other support services in your area.
Have a Financial Checkup
Have you saved enough to pay for care? Have you arranged for a trusted individual to help you manage your money in the event you can no longer do so? Make this decision carefully; sadly, seniors can be at high risk of financial elder abuse.
Think About Your Social Needs
Many single baby boomers count their coworkers as their most important social connections—what happens when you retire? Start setting up social networks through volunteer service, connections with neighbors, and all-important intergenerational connections.
The AARP predicts that while seniors today have an average pool of seven family members who can help with caregiving, by midcentury, that number will drop to fewer than three. Fortunately, we can plan ahead to create a caring community with lifestyle options that work best for us.