September 11, 2019

Baby boomers are truly the generation that changed the world. From revolutionizing music and art, to taking the political reins, boomers have left an indelible stamp on America. For many baby boomers, growing up in times of turbulence and change meant adapting with the era. Compared to other generations, boomers are more independent and self-reliant, and are known for focusing closely on reaching their career and lifestyle goals. 

Now, the boomer generation is growing older – and the number of adults who are aging alone is on the rise. 

More and more boomers are falling into a category known as “elder orphans,” or “solo agers.” Broadly speaking, an “elder orphan” may be someone without a spouse or children on whom they can depend as they get older, or someone whose family lives too far away to take on caregiving duties. 

There are all sorts of reasons why an older adult may become a solo ager. Many of us focus on our careers and personal goals over the years, rather than prioritizing starting a family. In other cases, an older adult may lose their spouse, or live far away from their children or siblings. In other cases, some adults have spent so much time serving as caregivers for their own parents, siblings, or senior relatives that they’ve never had much time to plan for their own golden years. 

There are countless causes for becoming a solo ager – and if you fall into this group, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, one prominent 2016 study found that 22% of Americans 65 or older live alone without family or a close network of support. Meanwhile, 2016 data from the US Census Bureau indicates that about one in five adults 65 to 74 years old lives alone, with that number doubling to 4 in 10 among those 85 and older. 

Now, it’s important to remember that there are countless benefits to aging in place for older adults! Major research cited by the AARP has suggested that nearly 90% of those 65 or older want to remain in their own home for as long as possible. Aging at home is often significantly healthier, safer, more convenient, and far more affordable than uprooting your life and transitioning into institutional care. 

With that being said? For elder orphans or solo agers, aging in place can also present some unique challenges, and it may prove important to get help over time.  

A recent study of 500 members of a Facebook group dedicated to “elder orphans” found that older adults without a care network are particularly vulnerable, and often underprepared for the stresses of aging. Here are some of the most noteworthy findings: 

  • 35% say that they would have no help in a crisis
  • 50% lack access to reliable transportation 
  • 45% reported feeling sad, and 52% reported feeling lonely 
  • Nearly 40% reported that they have difficulty eating and sleeping properly 
  • 43% lack a living will or health care power of attorney, and 78% have no help with bills or financial decision making

Of course, there are plenty of upsides as well! In this poll, elder orphans largely celebrated the freedoms that come with aging solo, with 45% saying that they feel empowered to share their views, and nearly 90% agreeing that they feel free to decide how to best live their lives. What’s more, 45% say that they are never behind on their finances. 

The question is: How can solo agers enjoy the independence and the active lifestyle that come with aging in place, while still safeguarding their mental and physical health? Here are a few ways that older adults can make the most of aging, without a family caregiver: 

Bring On a Professional Caregiver or Companion

Whether part-time or full-time, a caregiver or companion can enrich your life and provide the crucial support it takes to age in place safely and independently. Senior companions can provide the personalized help you need, depending on your circumstances. That may mean offering rides to doctor’s appointments or social gatherings; helping out with cooking, laundry, or cleaning around the house; offering medicine and exercise reminders; or helping out with activities of daily living (ADLs). Just as importantly? A senior companion can be a friend or confidant, someone whose company you can enjoy as you play cards, watch movies, or share meals. 

Expand Your Social Network

Many baby boomers value their independence above all else – but it’s important to remember that living alone does not have to mean being lonely! Social isolation and loneliness are some of the most pressing health challenges facing seniors, and they can be even more significant for solo agers without an established social network. For older adults, having strong social ties has been shown to increase longevity, improve satisfaction and happiness, and even help reduce the symptoms of some chronic health conditions. What’s more, friends and neighbors are people you may be able to rely on to help out if you’re ever in an urgent situation. Working with a senior companion can be a great first step to building an invigorating and meaningful new friendship. In addition, you may wish to look into other ways to meet new people and make friends, such as joining a club or organization, taking a class, reconnecting with a religious group, or volunteering in your community. If you have friends and family around the country, try to make time to schedule phone calls or exchange emails. 

Get Your Legal Paperwork In Order

As an older adult living alone, it’s often going to fall on you to be your own advocate. Making decisions about things like designating medical power of attorney, creating a will, and leaving advanced health care directives can be daunting, but these are important steps to take. Having this important legal paperwork in order can make your future intentions clear, and will allow others to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated or unable to communicate. Working with an experienced life transitions attorney can help you prepare your estate plan with confidence, allowing you to find solutions tailored to your unique circumstances. For more insights on the “how” and “why” behind estate planning for seniors, read on here.  

Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help

There is no shame or stigma in aging solo, or becoming an “elder orphan” due to circumstances outside of your control. There is also no shame in knowing your limits, and recognizing when it’s time to reach out for help. 

If you’re an older adult considering the challenges of aging in place, or seeking more information about hiring a part-time or full-time caregiver for yourself, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors to keep the conversation going. 

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

We are locally owned and operated in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and surrounding suburbs. Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help provide a variety of services designed to older adults remain comfortable and safe at home, including providing assistance with housekeeping, helping manage activities of daily living, offering driving services, and providing friendship and emotional support.

Have any more questions? Looking for more information, or someone who’s truly ready to listen? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to get the conversation started. We’re here to offer guidance and provide support, in whatever way we can. You can reach out online here, or give us a call at 866-910-9020.