“I can see people again.”
As the number of Americans fully vaccinated against Covid-19 grows daily, the collective feeling of liberation is emerging as the next chapter in our national pandemic story. “I can see people,” declares what we have been deprived of and want to receive — the nourishment of human interaction. However, though our doors are beginning to open, for millions of older adults living alone in their homes, social isolation preceded the crisis and will remain even as the general population’s health is restored and restrictions are lifted. Older people have felt the chill of Covid separation with a particular anguish, knowing that the enduring state of isolation won’t be eradicated by a vaccine.
The fact is, we’ve never been so alone. One-in-four older Americans live alone, and the trend of solo living is climbing across nearly every age group. Before 1940, almost no one lived alone. A multi-generational family residing under one roof or in close proximity was the norm, and the support necessary for the older members to maintain their quality of life and independence was provided by the close family structure.
But the dislocations of modern life changed that. Swelled by the graying of the U.S. population, the percentage of people living alone is now the highest in our history, as is their desire to remain independent by remaining at home. Ten thousand Baby Boomers are turning 65 every day and 90 percent say they want to live at home. Twelve million currently do. For the ageless generation that personalized the cultural forces of “freedom,” surrendering to what is perceived as a lesser existence is unthinkable. At the same time, this generation’s children live farther away than their predecessors’, making the imperative of caregiving even more complicated and stressful. I know this first hand. My story is no different than that of millions of others whose grandparents and parents want to age in place.