The age of individualism has set Baby Boomers in the direction of changing aging—for the better. Many of those born between 1946 and 1964 are more than half way through the life continuum and flourishing solo.
The numbers of solo seniors continue to rise. An AARP Public Policy Institute Report expects the number of women ages 80 to 84 without biological children will increase from nearly 12% in 2010 to 16% in 2030 and to almost 19% in 2050. According to the US Census 2020, 31 percent of the 65 and older live alone. Furthermore, the number of never married Americans is growing from 9 percent in 1970 to 35 percent of the 25 to 50 age group. And the largest American household, 28 percent, consists of single adults—passing the nuclear family by 8 percent.
Solo Agers are Changing Aging
An elder care professional, Kelly, who is aging alone, prefers to rely on herself rather than institutions and even friends and acquaintances for help. Solos of this generation have spent their adult life funding their own mortgages, college funds, retirement accounts, paying for their parents’ care and getting themselves to the airport, shopping, paying bills—all on one paycheck. We’re very independent—and we’re electing to limit the involvement of family and friends when support is needed, or not to involve them at all. These solo agers prefer to self manage the aging challenges when it comes to planning for the long term.
Most of us were family caregivers—we helped our relatives to coordinate care and served as healthcare and financial agents. We managed their care and observed first hand what it’s like to grow old. Family caregiving showed many of us what we will need to age well. But for solo agers, there are no family members to oversee our care. While few rely on a close friend many more cannot. Friends are in the same age group and dealing with their own health and care issues. More significantly, friends are not willing to take on the responsibility of making health decisions for someone who is not family or even to take on the responsibilities of caring for someone else.
Multi-Person Approach for Care
Like Kelly, the self reliant and independent type of solo ager will turn to a multi-person strategy—a team of support made up of friends and acquaintances to be advisors and helpers, though not necessarily “deciders or be the primary responsible contact.” Others piece together a collection of volunteers and paid professionals. Still other solos, with adequate resources, are seeking out paid professionals to meet all needs, from home care to health decision surrogates. And, unfortunately, there are far too many solos doing nothing—no planning—assuming “there is still time” or “the system” will take care of things. This strategy will put more pressure on the already overburdened public “safety net.” It’s the reason to consider joining my Solo Aging Master Group Coaching—we tackle such issues head on.
Paid Care Managers and Patient Advocates
Older adults aging alone who have the resources to pay out of pocket for assistance can hire care managers, banks and trust officers, physicians, attorneys, social service providers, gerontology professionals, and even move to a senior housing community.
If you’re a young boomer new to the idea of planning ahead, consider hiring a patient advocate to assist with finding a new doctor, or just want someone to check in on you. Patient advocates are a wonderful resource if you’re confused about the medications and concerned about allergic reactions, or if you need help searching and selecting a specialist, need help navigating the clinical trial landscape, or need help securing financial resources for treatments.
The 60+ solos are very familiar and comfortable using paid expertise than older adults of the past generations. The young seniors paid for elder care for parents and daycare for children. Since COVID, boomers pay people to deliver their groceries, and pay professionals to manage their money and make a career transition.
Build a Family of Choice
Solo seniors navigate multiple challenges when living alone but the most worrisome one is, “How do I compensate for not having adult children and other family members to look out for me, because counting on good friends is not what I want to do.” It’s a common remark and dilemma that I hear most often during my speaking engagements to seniors and family caregivers. It was the same worry I had after taking care of my parents.
According to the CDC 70 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease and that puts them at even higher risk when aging alone with no support at home. Both safety and independence are threatened. With the high prevalence of solo individuals and the clear risks associated, it is crucial that adults plan for the years ahead, create support and connections, and learn the available resources.
To be crystal clear, a community of support does not mean expecting your neighbor or friend to be the go to person for your care needs; a ride to the doctor’s office, shopping, meal preparation, cleaning, running errands, etc. Instead, a community of support is your reliable circle of neighbors and friends who simply have your back. The person that makes you feel, “Ah, I’m not alone, there is someone who cares.”
The Go to Support Team
Start here when building a team of support:
Communication, cooperation, and forming partnerships within the community can promote a successful aging experience.