Childless Boomer Trend May Increase Dependence on Senior Living Communities

Aging baby boomers are starting to think about how their long-term care needs will be met, and those without children may be especially dependent on assisted living or skilled nursing.

U.S. Census data indicates a growing elderly population—a majority of whom are women—who have either outlived their spouses, are no longer married, or who never had, or have outlived, their children. 

The Sacramento Bee reports

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For boomers who never had kids, who will come over any time, day or night, if the plumbing is broken or a suspicious sound outside frightens them? Who will advocate for them if they’re hospitalized, or if their capacities diminish later in life? Who will call them four or five times a week – as Spencer does her own elderly parents in Southern California – just to say hi?

[A]lready, 16 percent of frail adults ages 85 and older have no surviving children to help provide their caregiving, according to AARP Public Policy Institute figures. By 2040, when the oldest boomers are in their 90s, that number will reach 21 percent.

On top of the more than one-fifth of boomers who are childless, census statistics indicate that an additional 17 percent had only one child.

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Even so, boomers as well as their elders indulge in a rather startling lack of planning for their care needs in old age: A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows that only 37 percent of older adults who aren’t in nursing homes or hospice care – and only 15 percent of all adults – have completed legal proxies specifying who can make health care decisions on their behalf.

Recent University of Southern California research on aging indicates that, although people 75 and older without children score equally well as those with offspring in terms of comfort and contentment, the childless were far more likely to end up in costly nursing care.

The issue may be especially tough for boomers who have spent valuable time and resources caring for their own parents.

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“We have provided care for our elders, but who will take care of us when we age? I don’t know,” the Sacramento Bee quotes gerontologist Larry Weiss, founder of Reno’s Center for Healthy Aging, as saying. Weiss is divorced, 65, and childless, and while he sees drawbacks to traditional senior living communities, he acknowledges that will change. “There will be an evolution occurring in senior living, so that’s an option,” he says in the article.

Possible non-traditional senior living options include informal co-housing arrangements among two or three older adults as a way to share expenses and care for each other. 

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Written by Alyssa Gerace