Dec 7, 2022 - Health

Axios Finish Line: Rise of kinless older Americans

Illustration of two hands reaching towards each other in winter sweaters

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

There's a growing population of seniors who are aging alone — without any close family around them.

The big picture: A number of demographic trends are coming together to give rise to "kinless seniors," the New York Times' Paula Span writes.

  • There are nearly a million Americans over the age of 55 living without a spouse or a partner, any children or siblings.
  • That's because boomers have lower marriage rates than their parents did, and more of them have remained childless. On top of that, the divorce rate among couples who have crossed 50 has risen.
  • Rates of kinlessness are projected to grow as generations younger than boomers are even likelier to be aging alone.

Why it matters: Kinless older folks are less likely to participate in community groups, sports or religious organizations — activities that stimulate the body and the brain. And they're less likely to receive the care and help around the home that they need.

There's reason to be hopeful. While friends and neighbors might not take the place of immediate family, these strong social ties can alleviate a great deal of loneliness.

  • We can all help our older friends and neighbors with quick tasks — such as carrying heavy grocery bags or picking up a prescription at the local pharmacy.
  • But don't underestimate the power of talking. One of the most effective antidotes to loneliness is a simple conversation, where we listen deeply to what the other person has to say and take care to respond thoughtfully, experts say.

The bottom line: Look out for older adults in your life who might be in need of a phone call or an afternoon visit.

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