As seniors enter their golden years this brings new challenges in the form of solo aging especially for the baby boomer generation. Solo aging is a senior who has no children and no younger (or healthier) family members to assist them as they age. As in generations before, baby boomers are living longer and healthier lives but for some there is no escaping the eventualities of disease like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes or dementia. Others may require extensive care following a fall that results in a broken hip or other serious injury.
In prior generations when an aging senior needed assistance with activities of daily living they would typically enter a residential facility or be treated at home, often times with a younger family member to supplement their needs. In the case of the baby boomers however, healthy family members who can provide care are in shorter supply. Solo aging requires a modified approach to the requisite standard planning around the larger family system of previous generations.
The Pew Research Center found the rate of childlessness in baby boomers to be about 20% -double the number of previous generations. This childless statistic translates to one in five baby boomers having no adult children to help them when independent living becomes difficult or impossible. This solo aging segment of the baby boomer population is typically white, highly educated, reasonably affluent, and has a desire to remain living in the United States. Any of their immediate family that could provide care is often small in number and likely to live far away. These solo agers are fiercely independent and are accustomed to making their own decisions and will not let go of their self-determination easily.
Like most seniors, the solo ager prefers to remain in their private home. Living at home in the earlier years of retirement is often a suitable arrangement but over time the downward slope of mortal decline can lead to a number of dangerous difficulties. Incorrect management of medication, poor nutrition, isolation and loneliness, alcoholism and depression, dementia, and susceptibility to scam artists are just some of the problems that can become prevalent. Without the benefit of a younger family member who can “well check” them the solo ager is at an increased risk of becoming a victim of fraud, abuse, or more serious health decline. Moreover, when the time does come for care giving and/or relocation to a more suitable and safer living environment the solo ager will not be able to rely on an adult child to help them find qualified caregivers and appropriate living arrangements as well as orchestrate the physical downsizing and relocation to a new home.
What to do? Prepare and prepare early. Even if a solo ager is healthy it is impossible to predict the future. The unexpected fall or illness happens and more often than most people think. The solo ager needs to empower a third party, through proper legal documents, to act in a fiduciary capacity in the event the senior becomes incapable of making decisions. This includes a trusted friend, extended relative or even a professional fiduciary or private guardian.
There must also be legal protection in the form of a healthcare directive and estate plan or trust in place. Without the benefits that a traditional family support system brings the solo ager must pay strict attention to the details of their life planning and seek professional counsel to make proper arrangements. The reliance must shift from immediate family to legal professional counsel to ensure the solo ager is cared for in the manner they want should the need arise. While it may seem an uncomfortable discussion at first, the solo ager should be reminded they are maintaining life control by having legal documents created to reflect their own wishes. The solo ager can garner a sense of inner peace in their retirement years knowing their plans are properly in place and that the course of their life will reflect their desires.
If you or someone you know is a solo ager, we can help. Please don’t hesitate to contact our Albuquerque office at (505) 830-0202.