Flying Solo: Exploring the Growing Demographic of Solo Agers

Aug 25, 2023 | Uncategorized

Would you rather listen instead? Click here for the 17-minute audio recording.


Psychosocial Considerations of Solo Aging PresentationWhat I am talking about today could apply to us all. Behoove us all. Plus, you may learn to think about things in a whole new way, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and realize that you have been standing beside them and their shoes all along. 

By the time you see this, I will be presenting at a national conference. The Certified Senior Advisors (SCSA) are conferencing in Indianapolis. I and Dr Gerda Maissel, an MD and Patient Advocate, are going to lay it on them! 

Our Title: Psychosocial Considerations of Solo Aging

The savviness required for Solo Aging is good for everyone. You may be married or partnered, but unless you and your Significant Other die on the same day and hour, then one of you will become a Solo Ager, so stick around and gain the savvy.

Here is a Working Definition for Solo Agers:  

“Elder Orphans or Solos Agers are individuals who, by choice, or circumstances, function without the support system traditionally provided by family.”   

With this definition of Solo Aging, you might think of

  • People who live alone
  • People who have no spouse or partner
  • People without living children or stepchildren
  • People whose only child is disabled and lacks the capacity to provide support 

It’s a much broader definition. For example, consider “Duos,” those married without children. Those of us who lived thru ’90’s may remember the term “DINK” (Double Income, No Kids). For those Dinks & Duos aging without children – they are feeling it, and watching their friend’s caregiving for loved ones. No doubt they are thinking, “What will we do? What will happen to us, or to me?”

Continuing with the idea of a broader definition, what about

  • Children don’t live nearby. Or are deployed.  That “Far-Flung Family.” I know that many of you are aware of the challenges of long-distance caregiving (a whole ’nother segment, huh?).
  • Unavailable – The person you would count on may be having their own hip surgery. Or maybe family members are not the best ones to serve ( are irresponsible or have become addicted. The person you selected back in 1983 may not be the same person come 2023. 
  • Unable – We must remember that we all will change physically and cognitively over time. What happens if “Life shows up” for the one you are counting on? What if they grow to have their own challenges? “I’m sorry, I can no longer lift, or I can’t drive or (stoop and bend to) do laundry for you.”
  • Unwilling – Perhaps those among your group/family are burned out or aloof. Some folks will flat-out refuse.

What is important is that this emerging demographic is, well, emerging and growing rapidly. US studies and statistics are identifying Solo Agers. Folks who are aging (anyone among us not aging?) are self-identifying. They see themselves inside the definition or the circumstances described in the expanded definition. 

Let’s cover more about the person: Who is a Solo Ager, and why it matters

Did you know that, at first, this demographic was called “Elder Orphans”? Over the last few years, this population has been given a lot of monikers:

  • Elder Orphan – some might think “ugh”, however, it does catch the eye
  • Unrepresented – a term most used in the legal arena
  • Unaccompanied – a term for the Emergency Room or hospitals
  • Unbefriended – (Gee, thanks, American Geriatric Society, for that albatross)
  • Kinless came up last year…

From “Elder Orphans” to  “Solo Seniors” then “Solo Agers”… now some wish to be simply “Solos”… this is a ‘hidden in plain sight’ demographic that is hidden no more.

Forbes told us on May 20, 2021 — Twelve million adults over age 65 live alone. That is 27% of the population – the highest rate in the world. It would follow that a growing percentage are Solo Agers.

“More than 1 in 5 Americans older than 65 are – or are at risk of becoming – elder orphans,” wrote Dr. Maria Carney in 2016. Maria T. Carney is chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at Northwell Health of Great Neck, N.Y. & leading researcher.

If you read about or even Google “elder orphans,” you will find this oft-quoted phrase. Although she unknowingly saddled the demographic as “elder orphans,” Dr. Carney went on to forecast 

“This demographic, those aging alone with limited support, is expected to increase as the United States population continues to age and people live in the community with more chronic illnesses.”

So, with definitions and numbers now, let us turn to why it matters.

No built-in family to care for Solo Agers or help them out. From the ride to a medical appointment to providing true caregiving, the “automatically assumed” support is not there. 

Often Solo Agers have no one to name as an Emergency Contact. There is a real difficulty when it comes to designating an agent or proxy with Healthcare Power of Attorney or Financial or Durable Power of Attorney. The same is true with appointing an executor for an estate. 

Heck, if a Solo Ager twists an ankle, there may be no one to walk Fluffy the Dog.

Because the demographic is hidden in plain sight and not yet readily identified, it is common for medical personnel to make assumptions that help will be there. Medical providers and many discharge personnel’s thoughts remain within the confines of the exam room or the hospital stay. A Solo Ager’s difficulty finding a ride to medical appointments (regular, for treatment, and for follow-up) may not cross their mind. 

Aftercare from appointments, procedures, or hospital stays often means help may be required for the patient. “How do I operate that oxygen concentrator just delivered to my home (or how will my significant others or home care aides?). After an outpatient procedure, “Who will make sure I have prescriptions filled and can get into the house, OK?”

It is times like this you will hear me declare: “Solo Agers need to specially plan, and need to plan, especially.” 

Tremendous change is on the horizon. It begins with America identifying and self-identifying (Solos Rising!). Not only are Solo Agers are coming to know, but they are also realizing what they will need.

I presented last year at an NASW conference (National Association of Social Workers) online. My topic was Solo Aging. I didn’t know it, but the chat among the social workers was blowing up as I lectured. It was only later that I read the many OMG comments like:

  • I’m 64 right now and think about this a lot. 
  • I’m 64, so I need to get busy with my own planning
  • Wow. I think I am one.
  • One thing that I’ve learned as a Medicare provider is that we all have the potential to become a “solo ager.” Circumstances change!
  • This has always worried me.       
  • Yes, worries me too.
  • This population struggles the most of the patients I work within a primary care setting.
  • Maybe all the solo agers can band together and take care of each other. Little communities.
  • They can form their own support system.
  • My #1 fear is that I will be a burden on someone.
  • I could be a Golden Girl.       
  • I’m in for Golden Girls. I’m a Dorothy.

Identifying and self-identifying, and it’s happening every day in the USA and around the world.

There is a lot of good news nowadays about aging alone. Over the last few years, the media’s tone has been changing from vulnerable to empowered and with Solution.

Glance at these and see if you agree.

NY Times – Elder Orphans Hiding in Plain Sight: A Growing Vulnerable Population
AARP – Solo Ager: Needs Help Handling Her Financial Affairs
NY Times – Who Will Care for Kinless Seniors?
Kaiser – Without Safety Net of Kids or Spouse ‘Elder Orphans’ Need Fearless Fallback Plan
AARP – Elder Orphans” How to Plan for Aging Without a Family Caregiver
NY Times – Single? No Kids? Don’t Fret: How to Plan Care in Your Later Years
ForbesSolo Ager: Plan NOW If You Want To Thrive Later In Life
Next Avenue – For Solo Agers, A Roadmap For a Secure Future
Next Avenue – How Men Adapt to Being Solo Agers

Also noteworthy is the fact that major news outlets like the NY Times, Forbes, Kaiser, AARP, and Next Avenue… do not write about insignificant stuff. Ahem.

There is more good news:  Solo Aging population now has studies being performed and measurements underway. There are Solo Aging authors and thought leaders lecturing. Groups are forming online and in person. I am talking with people located all over the globe about Solo Aging now.  

It’s a really cool time, an exciting time.

Solo Agers themselves are likely very aware that support is needed. Lots of folks do not have a clue about how to begin to obtain it. 

We can BUILD it! I teach and coach about this a lot. As many of you have heard me say, I live in the Solution, not the problem. As a Solo Ager myself, I have walked this talk.  Here is what we do together:

We build a team, your Go To team, Circle of Care, your Village. I call it a Microboard, and here’s why.

First (and very cool), the Solo Ager gets to be the Chair of their Board, deciding who will fill the seats and making changes as circumstances change. Empowered.  Large and In Charge.

Those Chairs on their board might look like this:

  • Medical chair
  • Financial
  • Insurance
  • Care manager or Advocate-type
  • Attorney, and 
  • Key persons (such as the designated agent/proxy with Healthcare Power of Attorney. (We Patient Advocates think that way, our minds go there first). 

A Solo Agers has several builds to make, you see. Another neat feature, if you will, is that Solo Agers get to build their family. They get to choose who are significant in their lives (as opposed to being saddled with or obligated to deal with or caregive for blood relatives). There is choice in this matter, a feeling of having options, not fate or lot in life. 

This Microboard concept delivers a method and readiness. The Chairs are identified and filled, relationships are underway… peace of mind and calm are in sight.

Another important build lies in building COMMUNITY: friends, acquaintances, leisure skills, pursuing a faith or a passion. I am referring to a hub of sorts. Too many Agers, Solo or not, must combat their worlds becoming smaller at a time when the worlds should be maintained or even enlarged. Build, not dwindle! 

Some folks find it hard to make friends later in life and for various reasons. I will talk more about that in a segment coming up. The Why’s and the How’s.

If you are a Solo Ager or know a few (And you do. You know how to spot them now), then be aware that that my consulting services help many and ager get to where they need to be: we walk through medical legal, financial, housing, insurance, and support. 

Contact me with your inquiry. My phone and email are easily found in my media, and be sure to check out my robust Facebook page, Nancy Ruffner Patient Advocate – Aging Expert, or find me on LinkedIn. On my website, you will see that I offer a Complimentary Consultation toward engagement, so head on over to

Whether you are a Solo Ager or simply an “ager,” I hope that is something I’ve covered today. 

  • Provokes some thought,
  • Provides a gentle nudge into action,
  • Helps you to move comfortably forward in life. 

Take Good Care, Everyone!

8th Annual CSA Conference

Link to Nancy’s session details