Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 09:02 am
The following appeared in The New York Times on July 26th and has gotten 316 comments. It seems to be a ripe topic of conversation. Rather than just post the link, which I will also do, I want to quote the entire article. It is that worthwhile for people to read and think about.

HEALTH | July 29, 2008

The New Old Age: Single, Childless and 'Downright Terrified'

Jane Gross

Friendship remains an unsanctioned relationship with few legal rights.

It’s tough to rely on one’s children and tough to care for a parent. But who cares for the single and/or childless people? " Posted by Cathy.

I’ve never married, have no children and, apart from my mother, do not have a close family. I have a “caretaker’’ personality, helping elderly neighbors, new parent neighbors, pet owner neighbors (and homeless pets), but there is no one to take care of me…. I am downright terrified. " Posted by EMC.

Many of us who are unmarried and without children are wondering who is going to care for us when the time comes. " Posted by Kathleen.

As a single childless woman, I share the fear of my readers, above, and no amount of financial preparation for a prolonged old age calms me. For sure, my long-term care insurance policy will buy me a home health aide and pay to retrofit my house if I’m able to remain here, or contribute to care in another setting. I have the luxury of savings and a mortgage that will be paid off by the time I’m 70. If I need a geriatric case manager, I’ll probably be able to afford one. I count my blessings.

But, having witnessed the “new old age’’ from a front-row seat, I’m haunted by the knowledge that there is no one who will care about me in the deepest and most loving sense of the word at the end of my life. No one who will advocate for me, not simply for adequate care but for the small and arguably inessential things that can make life worth living even in compromised health.

My friend Esther has my health care proxy and will use it wisely, I know. But with a large family of her own, she cannot be my daily mainstay, as I was my mother’s (and she was hers). My friend Jill’s grown daughters have vowed, in their words, to “feed me creamed spinach’’ when the time comes. My reply: “You’ll only be able to do that, my darling girls, if your own parents don’t need you at the same time.”

Another friend, Ann, shares my fantasy of setting up joint housekeeping, assuming she outlives her husband. Our thinking goes something like this: If one of us can see and the other hear, if one of us is mobile and the other cognitively intact, we’ll muddle through as long as we can and then pool our insurance premiums to hire home care. We’d prefer to use the benefit for a masseuse and a manicurist but know it would be a hard sell to persuade MetLife that those were the kinds of “activities of daily living” our policies cover.

I’ve written before about pairs or small groups of unrelated women who are already doing this, some even constructing houses designed for their old age. But these arrangements, however cozy and comforting, exist outside the law, since friendship remains, and likely will always remain, an unsanctioned relationship with none of the legal rights granted to parents, children, spouses and, in some locations, domestic partners. Friends helping friends through illness or old age is a luxury of those who can afford to do it with no help from the government or their employers.

The handful of benefits available to family caregivers are not available to friends who have taken on the identical role. The most obvious example of this is the Family Medical Leave Act, which excludes friends (and also siblings!), even if they are around-the-clock caretakers, as I was for a beloved colleague during a 10-month siege of brain cancer. An A.C.L.U. attorney, at the time, was chomping at the bit to file a class-action lawsuit to try and establish that right, with me as the lead plaintiff. But " and here comes another “count your blessings’’ moment " my employer voluntarily cut me all the slack I needed and I was not about to reward generosity with litigation.

All of this came to mind last month when I stumbled upon an essay in The Boston Globe by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow. She examines the “second class’’ status of friendship in “the American hierarchy of relationships’’ and describes a nascent movement to grant it legal status. The subject seems ripe for conversation at a time when more and more of us are approaching old age outside of nuclear families.
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 09:12 am
I want to read the whole article but I do have to say that it has always really bothered me when people have kids so that they have someone to take care of them when they get old. What's up with that?
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 09:17 am
Yeah, I thought people have kids for the free labor around the house...

Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:07 am
I agree - I had children because I wanted children - no strings attached. I will raise them so they can be the best they can and then fly the coop. I wouldn't want them to change their lives because I needed special care - I would hope they would ensure I was taken care of, but not have to give up their lives, move or change anything.

One thing I would suggest to such a person is if they are that worried, take out a long term care insurance policy - that would pay for any assisted living or similar as they age.
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:12 am
I am interested in the idea of friendship as "unsanctioned" relationship - that society and the law does not give it much weight or function.

I can't afford a long-term insurance policy and I certainly don't want to disrupt the lives of my son and his family.

But why is a caring relationship, whether it be friendship or otherwise, so unexamined in this light?

The demographics in the years to come will prove this to be a big issue.
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:19 am
I think this issue is addressed with health care proxies (proxys?). That, along with a medical directive should solve any problems.
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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:25 am
In some ways though - we will have lots of old geezers (myself included of course) so wouldn't their be friendships made by having so many old people?
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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 12:05 pm
Yeah, I thought people have kids for the free labor around the house...

Years ago, when there were many small farms, couples had many children just for that reason. They needed the extra hands to do the chores that had to be done on a farm. When the country became more industrialized, the need for many children diminished, and the birth rate dropped.
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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 12:10 pm
I am single and childless. I am still young enough not to be terrified about growing old this way. But, I do think about it (in unterrified terms).
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 01:17 pm
Magginkat just sent me an article published in 2004 on this topic. It is quite specific about certain things.;sec=&amp;spon=&amp;pagewanted=print<br />

"February 27, 2004
Older Women Team Up to Face Future Together

Michele Smith and Jenny Young, the best of friends, were in their mid-50's when fear of illness and incapacity set them to joking, bleakly, about side-by-side rocking chairs at an old folks' home.

Instead, they decided to pool their resources, build a home in a gentle climate, divide the chores, buy insurance for long-term home health care and meanwhile enjoy the pleasures of female friendship.

This friends-helping-friends model for aging is gaining momentum among single, widowed or divorced women of a certain age. The census does not tabulate households like these, and experts say it would be too early to see large numbers of older women living with friends, since few baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, have retired yet. But sociologists and demographers say the interest is growing.

The logic is compelling. Women of the baby-boom generation, many of whom have managed businesses or owned real estate, are accustomed to controlling their own lives. They tend to have close female friendships. Many have watched the slow death of their parents, dependent on children or paid caretakers. They want something better for themselves. Aging with friends could be the answer.

''All the indicators are there that this will happen, given the culture of the baby-boom generation,'' said Rebecca G. Adams, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who is one of the nation's most prolific scholars on friendship. Professor Adams cites a life span among women that is longer than that of men, the nature of female friendship and the previous experience of women in this age group living in communal settings.

''This is a fantasy among women just now making serious decisions about their retirement and beyond,'' she said. ''But these are women extremely likely to take the steps necessary to live that fantasy.''

Among women, the interest is unmistakable. Post an inquiry on the Internet or broach the subject at any female gathering, and the responses pour in. The details vary, but the intentions are the same: to find a way to share the burdens and tap into the pleasures of old age by teaming up with girlfriends.

''These are the wonderful, nurturing relationships we've grown up with,'' said Laura Young, 53, executive director of the Older Women's League. ''We lived together in dorms and sororities. We shared apartments after graduation. We traveled together. We helped each other through divorce and the death of our parents. Why not take it to the next level?''

There is no guidebook on how to finance such a living arrangement; those who have tried have invented as they go along. Some have considered arrangements akin to a prenuptual agreement, spelling out rights and responsibilities.

''I'm waiting for a light bulb to go on in somebody's head,'' said Paul Kleyman, editor of Aging Today, the publication of the American Society on Aging. ''Before long, there'll be a business to help people do this.''

Michele Smith, divorced with four grown children, and Jenny Young, single and retired as an assistant principal, are finding their own way in Port Charlotte, Fla., far from the neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, where their friendship deepened over 15 years of shared secrets, family celebrations and emergencies.

Their timing was excellent. Ms. Young, 55, has had a hip and knee replacement and can no longer hoist her Samoyed into her S.U.V. So Ms. Smith, 58, had the idea of ordering a dog ramp.

''When one of us is having difficulties, the other one kicks in,'' Ms. Smith said.

Aging with other women is not only about taking care of aches and pains. Pooled resources and good company can make it fun as well. Christine Perkins, an Ohio contractor in her early 60's, built a house for herself and three friends in rural Ohio. It has electrical outlets that can be reached without bending. But it also has an exercise room and a hot tub.

Even women still in marriages or other heterosexual relationships often assume that men will not always be part of their lives. This is often a matter of demographics, since women live seven years longer on average and thus expect to be widows. That is the case with Harriet Dubroff, a retired principal in a relationship with a man, and Florence Isaacs, a married freelance writer; both their mates are in declining health.

Those two women, in their mid-60's, hope to wind up in adjacent apartments in Lincoln Towers, a high-rise complex on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with so many elderly residents that social services are already in place. Ms. Dubroff took a fall recently that left her shaken. Ms. Isaacs has vision problems. Together they hope to enjoy the bounty of New York City longer than they could alone, and joke that they will do just fine as long as one of them can walk and one can see.

Linda Young, 53, who teaches at a community college in Palm Desert, Calif., sees her future in a rural setting. A friend inherited a farm in Washington State where a half-dozen women already vacation together. With outbuildings that could be upgraded for live-in caregivers, and with a pottery studio and a view of Mount St. Helens, ''it would not be a bad way to complete our lives,'' Ms. Young said.

She noted that women were drawn to this idea not only because they expect to outlive their mates but also because they trust their friends to be good caretakers. Ms. Young was married for 25 years, was on her own for 10 and is now with a male partner she describes as totally reliable. Still, she prefers the idea of aging with friends.

''A lot of men just can't go there,'' Ms. Young said. ''They didn't change their children's diapers, so why do we think they're going to change their wives'?''

Men do not seem to entertain comparable ideas. Dennis Kodner, executive director of the Brookdale Center on Aging, at Hunter College, says all the men he knows expect that a woman will care for them.

''We don't really have those kinds of friendships,'' Mr. Kodner said.

And Tim Cisneros, a Texas architect who designed a home for two women in 1997 and has had half a dozen requests for similar houses since, said women ''are better at planning for the future.''

Taking care of their own parents, an experience of growing numbers of baby boomers, has been ''a wake-up call,'' said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, which supports MetLife with research on issues related to aging. In 1940, Ms. Timmermann said, only 13 percent of people over 60 had a living parent. In 2000, 44 percent did.

Especially when they have no children, their fears quicken. Mary MacLellan, who spent down her retirement savings caring for her mother after she broke a hip, wondered, ''What in the name of God will become of me?'' But her worries eased when she and six other women in Nova Scotia, ages 50 to 68, began discussing living together.

As for legalities, the early adopters flew by the seat of their pants.

Ms. Perkins insisted on rules about future responsibility to nurse one another. ''A cold, yes, we'd give each other chicken soup,'' she said. ''End-stage Alzheimer's? I guess somebody might. But you're not even allowed to ask.''

The women Mr. Cisneros built a house for, Dorothy Howard and Callie Camp, each have a daughter, so they specified inheritance rights. An heir cannot sell her share while the other original owner is alive. And the surviving owner is under no obligation to welcome the deceased's daughter as a roommate.

Aliana Alexander, 62, is hungry for guidance on how she and a lifelong friend can cobble together such a future. Ms. Alexander, a retired math teacher, is twice divorced, and her children are scattered. Her friend, a nurse, is a widow. They already hold each other's health care proxies. They also own homes in Newburgh, N.Y., that if sold would pay for a shared residence.

A while back, Ms. Alexander called Mr. Cisneros for tips on designing a house. Recently, she sought advice from Ms. Perkins about contractual agreements. Such technicalities are Ms. Alexander's only misgiving.

''Other than that, the whole arrangement seems ideal,'' she said. ''We've already shared the good and bad for over 60 years. There'd be no surprises. We know how to care for each other because we know how to care for ourselves. All we want is to safeguard our quality of life, our independence and our pride.'' "
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 01:22 pm
Yeah like I said - all the old geezers will get together and help each other - just watch out they/we (when I get there) will be taking over the world.

Many situations like this do exist. My grandmother (before she needed 24 hour care) lived in a elder independent apartment. Basically it was like any other apartment complex - just it wasn't as expensive, they offerred lunch dauly and the residents sort of looked out for each other.
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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 02:25 pm
The author of the New York Times article wrote:
]Friendship remains an unsanctioned relationship with few legal rights.

And I wouldn't want that to change. A big parts of what makes friendship worth having is that they're voluntary.

As to who cares for you at old age, I think the solution is to save for elderly care as you do for retirement. And if that doesn't work -- there's a lot of denial going on about what happens during one's final years -- another option is a public program similar to Social Security. That's what we established in Germany about 20 years ago.

But yeah, being single and childless definitely is definitely a concern.
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Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 08:59 pm
I've certainly thought about it. I'm married with step children but, I wouldn't feel confortable depending upon them. My husband is ten years older than i so, if things follow the natural course, he will go before me.

I've thought about my two best girlfriends, my cousin, perhaps her sister. We're all friends. But who's house? Mine? Cuz? Stay here or head for Houston? Back to Chicago? And how easy will it be for three or four women, all accustomed to being "The Queen" of the house, survive under one roof?

So much to think about. But it certainly IS something to think about.
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:04 pm
My best friend from college is single and childless. We've known each other since we were both eighteen. Her mother is elderly and ill, her only sister has terminal lung cancer and her older brother is around, but not very involved in her life - busy with his own.

When I saw her in June she spoke of feeling alone now - with the knowledge that she'll feel more alone when her mom and sister die. I just told her that she'll never have to be alone unless she wants to. She's as much a sister to me as my own sisters - in some ways we're closer.

And actually, I hope she takes me seriously. I always enjoy having people outside my family come to live with us and become part of our family. I've probably spent more of my life having a nonfamily member friend living with me and my kids than not - I always enjoy it - having grown up with five brothers and sisters - I always feel it's too quiet when it's just the three of us, and I always feel it's more interesting and as much of a benefit to us as to the person who is staying with us.

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