“Elder Orphans” Find Support in Community, and in Each Other
When many boomers envision their future years, they see themselves growing old alongside their spouse. But we all know that scenario is certainly not guaranteed. Illness, death, and divorce can cause retirees who always expected to age as part of a couple to have to make it on their own. And many aging boomers are entering their retirement years having never married or had children, which means they not only have no spouse or partner to help them as they age, but no offspring, either.
We found this article last fall in USA Today, and even though the story is a few months old, the issue of seniors living alone is always timely. We bring this particular article to your attention because it spotlights a growing group of single retirees referred to as “elder orphans” – men and women aging without the support of a spouse, partner or children. This segment of the population is indeed on the rise. A recent report on caregiving cited by USA Today and conducted by the National Academies of Sciences stated that about 20% of U.S. women now reach their 50’s without ever having borne children – a percentage that has doubled since the 1970’s. What’s more, says the article, fully one-third of middle-aged adults are facing their retirement years as singles, either due to divorce, widowhood, or a life of singleness.
Here’s the challenge for aging singles, says USA Today: “While many may treasure their independence, the problem is that sooner or later most people need help with health care and household tasks – help that most often is provided by spouses or grown children.” The article goes on to state that many seniors only realize they lack required support when they suddenly find themselves facing a crisis.
The encouraging idea behind the USA Today article is that many “elder orphans” are finding ways to band together for mutual support, often finding that support through social media. One such elder orphan is Carol Marak who edits the website SeniorCare.com. She is herself single and childless at age 65. Marak saw the need for single seniors to connect, so she launched a Facebook group for elder orphans, a group that in just a few months has attracted more than 3,300 followers. The site includes group discussion on topics ranging from transportation to housing to loneliness, and interest is growing.
But social media alone can’t solve the problems faced by elder orphans. Most of these issues require hands-on, in-person solutions. The SeniorCare website reveals the extent of “single living” among today’s seniors: almost half of women 75 and older live alone, as do more than a quarter of all seniors not living in institutions. This kind of isolation, compounded by the fact that one in five Americans 65 and older no longer drives, can lead to health problems, depression and early death.
Many seniors living alone are finding new pathways to community. For instance, USA Today says some single seniors are discovering what it’s like sharing a house with others in a similar situation. The article mentions one woman who retired from a job in California’s Silicon Valley and decided to try living with a group of friends, much like television’s famous “Golden Girls.” After sharing houses with other retirees she even wrote a book and launched a website detailing her experiences and suggesting some tips to make house-sharing successful. She warns those who might want to try house-sharing that, even if it seems like a great idea, you’ll need careful planning and some clear ground rules if you’re going to make it work.
For most single seniors, the more likely solution will be to age in place on your own, but live in a community of caring neighbors of all ages who will become part of each other’s support group. If you have this type of environment where you live now, that’s good – but if you don’t, it may be time to make a move while you’re relatively young and healthy. A walkable community close to friends is best, with resources such as a good senior center and a caring church family close by. One important consideration especially for single seniors is to identify a close, trusted friend who can act as your health care proxy if you have no family. This is something with which we here at AgingOptions can definitely assist you, if you’ll call our office during the week.
Whether you’re facing retirement surrounded by spouse, family and friends, or whether this will be a solo journey, we stand ready be your guide as you prepare for your “retirement adventure.” With our unique and comprehensive planning approach, called LifePlanning, we will work with you to design a retirement blueprint that will help you protect your assets in the future, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and help you never have to face being forced to move into a nursing home or other institution against your will. Your LifePlan encompasses your legal affairs, your medical needs, your financial strategy, your housing choices and even your communication with your family, weaving all of these elements together into a seamless retirement plan that maximizes your security and quality of life.
It’s easy to find out more about this breakthrough in retirement planning: attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held in locations throughout the Puget Sound region. If you’ll click here you’ll find all the seminar dates, times and locations, and you can register online. Or if you prefer, contact us and we’ll assist you by phone. Invest just a few hours and we assure you you’ll come away excited and reassured about your retirement future. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar in the very near future.
(originally reported at www.usatoday.com)