We welcome our guest blogger , Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D.:
Did you know that almost ONE out of FIVE baby boomers have no children? I don’t mean no children living at home; I mean no offspring of any age. That number is nearly twice the rate of childlessness in previous generations. The reasons for t his dramatic rise are fairly obvious. In the past 40 years there have been so many more options available – contraceptives and careers being foremost – for women and couples. And it became societally acceptable to not raise children or to even get married. But that also means that one in five older adults will have no grown children to help them with the routine tasks of daily life, decision making, household relocation, or any of the myriad everyday tasks that adult children generally do for their aging parents.
Who will be there for you if you live into your 80s, 90s, and even 100s? Your chances of living into that ripe old age are better than ever, thanks to medical science, but so are your chances of needing assistance with the daily physical or mental requirements. You may expect to age gracefully, healthfully, and without needing this kind of assistance, but health problems of one sort or another begin to afflict people with dramatically higher frequency as the decades mount.
What are the critical obstacles to aging alone?
The U.S. government GAO predicts that by 2020 the number of older Americans living alone with no living children or siblings will be 1.2 million. That is almost twice the number recorded in 1990. Those of us now in our 60s and 70s, who do not have children, should start to think about our future as “Solo Agers.” Recent studies among the elderly have, by-and-large, replicated the findings from older studies: results confirm that the existence of friendships and social relationships (i.e., a support system) are critical in staving off feelings of loneliness and isolation in older age. They are, in fact, more critical than the presence of a spouse. And let’s face the hard, cold fact that even if you are now married, one of you is going to be left alone at some point in the future!
What can we do for ourselves?
Here are some ideas and recommendations for starting NOW to form the bonds and safety nets you will need as a solo ager:
Bonding and Companionship. Find/join/start a group of like-minded solo agers. Talk about the issues and individual preferences for aging. You will need to live close to one another. That will become increasingly important as you become less mobile.
Housing. Whether you are committed to aging in place or moving to a retirement community, start looking and planning now. Learn about the Village Movement and Co-housing. Maybe you and your group of like-minded friends will find a community you all like. Maybe you will create your own. There are lots of experiments taking place already, as you will learn when you research these two phenomena.
Legal Documents. Check out “durable powers of attorney for health and finances.” These are limited POAs and you can list anyone you like and trust to make decisions for you when you cannot. Also check out the Five Wishes document: http://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes.php. It is now a binding legal document in 42 states and used in all 50.
Keep the Door Open and the welcome mat out. Open your heart and your life to younger people. Is there a niece? A younger sibling? You may well need a younger person to be part of your life as you age. You and your peers will not be able to do for one another what a younger person can.
As a generation, we are already re-inventing the retirement chapter of our lives. Many of us will also need to re-invent older age. It’s time to start thinking about that chapter too! For more information on Solo Aging, and to read Sara Geber’s other articles, visit her website: http://www.lifeencore.com/.
Sara Zeff Geber, Ph.D. – Bio
With her coaching, writing and speaking, Dr. Geber enables people to understand how their background, style, and personality can lead to a more satisfying post-career lifestyle. She has made raising awareness of the special challenges of Solo Agers her personal crusade, and talks about it frequently – to anyone who will listen.
Sara has a Ph.D. in Counseling and Organizational Behavior. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Sara is on the leadership team for the NorCal Life Planning Network. In her scarce spare time Sara sings soprano in Schola Cantorum, a premier Silicon Valley choir, skis in the winter and grows vegetables in her garden in the summer. She lives with her husband and their elderly canine companion in Los Gatos, CA.