Planning Ahead for Solo Aging
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Planning Ahead for Solo Aging

          You may or may not have once heard the term “elder orphans” during the past year or two. This term was coined to describe those seniors who do not have a spouse or children who can assist them as the needs of their care change as they age. It is currently estimated that about twenty two percent of older adults today fall into this category, with the number only expected to rise as time goes on.

            It is important to take note that many seniors dislike the term “orphans”, as it is traditionally a term used for children. The preferred term for those who dislike being called an elder orphan is perhaps something like “solo ager”, “kinless senior”, or “single ager”. But whatever term is used, it’s clear that more and more people will fall into this category with every year that passes, and will need care in their later years. There are four demographic changes that are behind this growing trend.

            For one, people are living longer than they ever have before. In 2018, the United States Census Bureau announced that by the year 2030, twenty percent of people alive in the US will be older than 65 years of age. Even with a slight recent dip in life expectancy, due to a number of factors such as the opioid epidemic or the COVID-19 pandemic, the seniors of today are living longer than ever before. However, this longer life is likely to be tempered with later years marked by disability to a slightly greater degree than their parents, due in part to the greater rate of obesity.

            Another factor is that the Baby Boomer generation had fewer children than their parents did, and many had none at all. The increase in availability and acceptance of birth control, concerns about overpopulation, and the changing role of women in society all contributed to a lower birth rate. The aging of baby boomers means that within just a couple decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in United States history. By 2035, there will be 78 million people aged 65 or older, compared to 76.4 million under the age of 18.

            More people divorced or never married, as well. The divorce rate for people between the ages of 55 and 64 has more than doubled in the past 25 years, meaning seniors are less likely than ever to have a spouse to help care for them. More seniors than ever are living alone, or orphaned from their families by distance caused by increased mobility.

            For those looking at aging solo, it’s important to plan ahead. Being in denial about the changes that aging can bring about can lead to solo agers having fewer choices and less support when they need it. Creating a plan far in advance of need can avoid nasty surprises later.

            Some solo agers ask a trusted friend or relative to act as their financial or health representative. Others engage the services of aging professionals to coordinate and oversee care.