There are more than 34 million Americans caring for an adult over age 50 – and most of them are family members. But what happens if you’re a single, childless senior? Who’ll care for you?
The Declining Number of Caregivers
Most families assume that if something happens to Mom or Dad, one of the adult children will take care of them. However, as Baby Boomers age, the potential number of caregivers for them is shrinking due to factors such as divorce.
In 2015, for every person over age 80, there were seven potential family caregivers. By 2023, that ratio is expected to shrink to four to one. And in 2050? It’s projected there will be fewer than three potential caregivers for every older American.
Not having family caregivers is more than just an inconvenience – it can severely impact the health of single, childless people. A 2016 study found that they are at a higher risk of medical problems, cognitive decline and premature death.
If you’re a single senior without children, or don’t have children willing or able to provide care if you need it, here are some things to consider as you weigh your senior living options.
Social isolation can do more than make you feel lonely. It’s also a risk factor for physical and cognitive decline, which will make it harder to care for yourself. Social isolation and loneliness also increase your risks for depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
If you’re considering aging in your current house, ask yourself a few questions about your ability to have the kind of social support and connections you need.
- Do I have a network of friends and neighbors I can reach out to for help or information and resources?
- Do I currently see friends or family more than once a week?
- Are my social circles shrinking?
- If transportation becomes an issue for me, how will I get to social events and doctors’ appointments? Do I live close enough to walk to stores to go shopping?
It’s important to make plans for your future care while you’re still independent and fairly healthy. And you need to have someone in place who can make sure your wishes are carried out in an emergency or if you become incapacitated. Ask yourself:
- Am I familiar with all my health care options?
- What will I do in a health emergency?
- Do I know where I can receive various aging services such as long-term care and rehabilitation?
- How can I make sure I’m taking good care of myself through proper nutrition, physical fitness and intellectual stimulation?
Adult children are usually the ones to help aging parents navigate housing, health care and social service options. You may want to consider bringing a trusted friend or relative into your exploration process. Here are some scenarios to think through and develop a plan for:
- What happens if my house becomes too much for me to maintain?
- How do I know if some form of assisted living is right for me?
- What happens if I begin to experience a cognitive decline?
- Do I have a financial plan in place that will pay for care and protect my estate?
Senior Living as an Option
More and more people are discovering senior living communities have many of these key support structures built into community life:
- Many communities have a continuum of care on site, which means you never have to worry about finding care if you need it. It’s often just a few steps away from your residence door. Nurses are available when you need them, too.
- Wellness is a way of life at many communities. They provide a wealth of opportunities for fitness, nutrition, intellectual stimulation, spiritual and emotional support. Off-campus transportation is often provided so you can visit your doctor, dentist, house of worship or favorite shopping center.
- Social opportunities abound at senior living communities. In addition to community-planned activities and programs, residents frequently start and run clubs, committees and informal events.
Choosing to live at a senior living community is one way you can take charge of your future. You can be the one to decide where and how you’ll live – and you can take worrying about future what-ifs off your to-do list.
- Caregiving in the U.S., 2015 Report, AARP Public Policy Institute
- Fidelity Investments® Family & Finance Study, 2016
- The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers, 2013 Report, AARP Public Policy Institute
- Elder Orphans Hiding in Plain Sight: A Growing Vulnerable Population