The demographics of aging are shifting, and the number of single, childless seniors is growing.

As it turns out, Sophia, Blanche, Dorothy and Rose were ahead of their time! Yes, those Golden Girls of the 1980s were on to something that has become a growing trend of aging baby boomers. When the four savvy 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? Forbes  recently offered some valuable insight, and food for thought.

The baby-boomers are just starting to enter retirement and they are far more likely than previous generations to have remained childless throughout life. Many never actually married, and others have already lost their spouses. What will happen to these people if they become disabled, incapacitated, or develop a chronic illness?

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 that these seniors will need outside help at some point in their lives.

Without family, seniors can only turn to 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 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. There was one episode, though, when Rose suffered a heart attack and the girls were not allowed to visit her in the hospital because they were not actual family members. A good elder care attorney might 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:


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