Childless Boomers Who Will Care for Them?

Who Will Provide Care for Childless Boomers? Many will grow old without family to look after them. With advances in medical science allowing us to live longer and longer issues for these boomers like POA’s and Long-Term Care.

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Childless Boomers Who Will Care for Them?
4 Min Read August 7th, 2015 Updated:October 22nd, 2019

Today, more older couples are aging without adult children. With longevity, the total number of these childless seniors, both couples and singles, is going up. The AARP Public Policy Institute Close says 19% of all women ages 80 to 84 will fall into that category in 2050, up from 16% in 2030. As more people will need long-term care services, these childless couples will face additional challenges. 

This article addresses the issues of longevity when you have no children. The financial costs and burdens of aging is still a major issue but the challenges can be a bit different. 

By Denise Foley in Next Avenue

The last piece of real estate Pam and Bruce Boyer purchased together was more than 20 years ago: adjoining plots in the cemetery across the street from their home in historic Bethlehem, Pa.

“We chose a place we really like. We walk there – it’s like a park in London,” says Pam Boyer, 68, a retired magazine researcher whose husband is a freelance writer. “We got it taken care of early before it seemed morbid – or too homey,” she adds with a laugh.

‘Elder Orphans’

It wasn’t the only accommodation the Boyers made to the fact that they are childless, a circumstance an estimated one in five boomers find themselves in as they age.

One study predicts that about a quarter of boomers may become “elder orphans.” That’s a newly coined term for people who reach old age with no family or friends left, like the 81-year-old North Carolina man who made the news in May when he called 911 for food because he had no one else to turn to.

Fewer Caregivers

Family members provide about 70% of long-term care services, according to a survey by the American College of Financial Services. Not only are more boomers childless, those who do have children have fewer than the previous generation. Trendsetters from the start, the boomers have spawned a new phenomenon: caregiver shortage.

As of 2010, there were more than seven family caregivers for every person 80 and over. By 2030, estimates say, there will only be four and by 2050 there will be fewer than three.

That raises the question: Who will take care of the childless boomers when they’re old?

Avoiding the Serious Questions

What alarms many experts is that it’s not the boomers who are asking that question.

“I’d say of every four people I meet, three have not made any decisions at all about their health care when they age.”

Bert Rahl, a licensed social worker and director of mental health services at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland, Ohio.

Understanding the Truth

The Boyers chose to be proactive. What made it easier: In light of their circumstances, they’d given it a lot of thought.

They knew when they married more than 30 years ago that they were never going to have children. Pam Boyer is an only child who cared for her grandmother and both her parents — her father had Parkinson’s disease, her mother, Alzheimer’s — in their later years.

“We’re not a healthy family.”

Pam Boyer, a retired magazine researcher 

And neither of them was squeamish about talking about death — even their own.

Take Charge of Your Life

So not only did the Boyers pre-plan their burial, they downloaded documents from the Internet that allowed them to create an advanced directive (a living will that spells out your wishes for end-of-life care) as well as durable power of attorney (POA) so a trusted friend could handle both health care and financial decisions for them when they couldn’t.

(Unlike an ordinary POA, a durable POA stays in effect if you’re incapacitated. The medical version of the POA is called a durable POA for health care.)

They also bought Long-Term Care Insurance to help cover expenses if they develop chronic illnesses that require treatment over a long period of time. They offer the couple peace of mind that a catastrophic illness won't bankrupt them.

Preventing Falls

They also did some preventive remodeling. They added grab bars to their bathtub and moved their washer and dryer from the basement to the main floor of their house to reduce their risk of falls. Falling is the No. 1 cause of hospitalization for older adults in the United States and a leading reason those 75 and older wind up in long-term care.

“Making your home fall-resistant is one of the best things you can do. Your injury potential goes way down.”  The organization advocates for housing modifications to meet the needs of seniors who want to stay in their own homes as long as possible.

 Louis Tenenbaum, a former carpenter, and contractor who founded the Aging in Place Institute.

Every step the Boyers have taken to protect themselves in old age is a wise move even if you have children who say they’re ready and willing to be your caregivers, says Dr. Bruce Chernof, president and CEO of California-based SCAN Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the range of health care for seniors.

Finding Strong Supporters

Chernof, who himself is a married boomer with no children, says “family” needs to be defined broadly.

“It’s not just children. We all should be thinking about how we want to live our lives with dignity and independence and we should be building a circle of friends and family around us to help us realize that plan.”

Dr. Bruce Chernof, president and CEO of California-based SCAN Foundation

The key thing is choosing someone who will enforce the decisions you’ve already made, Rahl says. “It’s very important to communicate ahead of time what your wants and wishes are, and choose someone who will honor your wishes, not impose their own personal values,” he adds.

Draft Documents, Get Insurance

Having that “circle of support” isn't enough without the conversation about what you want done when something happens to you. “Seventy percent of those over 65 are going to need long-term service, including help around the home, dressing, transportation and more.”  

“Not only should you be talking about what you want, but it’s also incumbent on you to have tools in place — like durable power of attorney and an advanced directive document and long-term care insurance if you can afford it — to support your circle of support when you hit a speed bump.”

Bruce Chernof 

Having those conversations isn't easy.

Alice Alexander, 57, admits she’s one of those “typical people who have their head in the sand” about growing older.

But she took one step that she knows is in the right direction, though she did it for other reasons: She and her husband of three years recently moved into a co-housing condo community in downtown Durham, N.C. Like the Boyers, they’re childless.

Being There for Each Other

“I wanted to live in a community and with co-housing, community is there when you want it,” 

“I wanted one of those neighborhoods where you know your neighbors, where you remember each other’s birthdays and feel comfortable knocking on the door when you need help but you can always close the door. I think together as a group we’ll all find the courage to have the conversation because we really do need to think about this.”

Alice Alexander, executive director of the Co-Housing Association.

Alexander’s multigenerational co-housing neighbors — the Durham Central Park Co-Housing Community — haven't set up a legal covenant spelling out how neighborly they're going to be. But they have agreed that they want to be there for one another.

The plan was tested during the month of move-in when one of their single neighbors broke her arm and couldn't care for herself.

Rather than see her go to rehab, “We scheduled visiting with her, bringing her food, and some people volunteered to help her bathe.”

Alice Alexander

Revisit the Decisions

While setting plans in place for the potential and the inevitable are a good idea, they’ll sometimes require some tinkering. Over the last couple of years, the Boyers realized that asking a close friend to be their support was probably not the best idea.

“Unfortunately, he’s our age, which is not going to be a practical solution,”

 “We’re going to ask an attorney to take over for us.”

Her advice: “Talk about it while you're still feeling good and revisit it from time to time. It’s not once and done."

Pam Boyer

Denise Foley, a former editor at Prevention magazine, has also written for Good Housekeeping and She lives in the Philadelphia area.

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

It is always best to start planning before you retire. The financial costs and burdens of aging have huge impact on all types of families, however wen you do not have children you need extra help since both of you will be aging at the same time. Depending on each other gets more difficult because of advanced age. Once you have your plan in place you will enjoy peace-of-mind and your family will thank you decades from now.

LTC Insurance Mean Choice and More

Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance provides more than just tax-free money to pay for your choice of quality care. Most policies provide case management services. This can become your advocate to ensure you will get the quality care you want and deserve, 

There are several types of Long-Term Care Insurance policies available. You get to choose which plan best fits your individual situation. Premiums are based in part by your age, your health, your family history, and the total amount of benefits you wish to have in place.

Long-Term Care Insurance Premiums Vary

No matter which type of plan you purchase, Long-Term Care Insurance is easy, affordable and rate stable income and asset protection. These policies are custom designed. Be careful, however, since premiums can vary over 100% between companies for the exact same coverage. This is why you should seek the help of a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist.

Items to Discuss with a Long-Term Care Specialist:

  • Partnership – Most states offer special policies that provide dollar-for-dollar asset protection. The Long-Term Care Insurance Partnership Program might be one of the best-kept secrets in retirement planning. Make sure the specialist explains this program and how it might help you.
  • Tax incentives – There are federal tax incentives available for some people. If you own your own business be sure to ask.
  • Health Savings Accounts – If you have an HSA you can use the pre-tax money in your account to pay for the premium.
  • Asset-Based or Hybrid policies – These are life insurance or annuities with a rider for long-term care. Careful, only a handful are actually a long-term care benefit. However, one of these policies can provide you with the flexibility of both a long-term care benefit or a death benefit. They are expensive but can be paid with a single premium.
  • Health and Family History - Make sure the specialist asks you detailed questions about your health, family history, and retirement plans. Underwriting criteria varies with each insurance company. If they are not asking you detailed questions then find another specialist.

Know the Current and Future Cost of Care

Take a moment and find the current and future costs of long-term care in the area you live in. This will help you decide the amount of coverage is appropriate for you in your situation. For example, if you have a defined pension when you retire the amount of benefits you would need for long-term care would be less than an individual who will fund their future retirement with earnings off investments. In that case, protecting the principal is essential since that will produce your future income.

Find your state and use the LTC NEWS cost of care calculator.

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