I am seeing it with greater frequency - retired Americans without children. Without children to fall back on for those inevitable trips to the doctor, errands, etc., many seniors are looking to each other. They are, in a sense, forming "families" to provide community and mutual support. Remember "The Golden Girls"?
As it turns out, Sophia, Blanche, Dorothy and Rose were ahead of their time! Yes, those Golden Girls of 1980s sitcom fame were modeling a lifestyle that has become a growing trend of aging baby boomers. When the four savvy (and sassy) women decided to move in together and build a sort of ad-hoc "family," they were simply doing (more than three decades ago) what an increasing number of seniors are doing, or considering doing, today.
Sociologists and popular social critics alike have been discussing the erosion of the nuclear family for years but here is a new twist: what is to become of those seniors who aging outside the nuclear family? Bernard Krooks of Forbes recently offered some valuable insight, and food for thought.
Consider the demographics: Baby-boomers are entering retirement and are far more likely than previous generations to have remained childless. Many never actually married, and others already have lost their spouses. What will happen to these senior boomers should they become disabled, incapacitated, or develop a chronic illness?
Traditionally, most in-home care for the elderly is performed by family members. Hospital stays are getting shorter, driven by cost-saving initiatives, making it even more likely such seniors will need outside help eventually.
Without family, seniors can have limited options, to include friends, paid caregivers, or government-sponsored social services. Of course, paid caregivers are difficult for many seniors to afford, and government-programs present their own challenges, especially in light of recent (and inevitable future) budget cuts.
Unfortunately, friends are not currently accorded the same status as family members by a legal system that has always made the assumption of a nuclear family. There is an emerging movement, though, that seeks to change that. Some legal scholars are espousing the establishment of "friendship law," which would confer certain rights upon "designated friends" who play a significant caregiver role – including hospital visitation, tax breaks and claims to an estate if no will has been established.
One thing we never saw the Golden Girls do was consult an attorney about their various "rights" to caring for one another. [Now that would have been an exciting episode!] There was one episode, however, when Rose suffered a heart attack and the girls were not allowed to visit her in the hospital. Why? Because they were not actual family members. Truly, good elder law counsel would have helped the girls sort through some of those legal issues in advance.
By the way, you can watch portions of Rose’s “Heart Attack” episode on YouTube.