This post doesn’t have a great deal to do specifically with elder orphans other than to reinforce the notion that a lot of us will be comforted by the fact that we don’t have children and/or grandchildren to worry about. (See my earlier post Behind Closed Doors.) Since I have the keys to elderorphan.org be forewarned that I will likely stray off on a tangent from time to time.
I tend to rely a great deal on the Internet for my daily dose of politics, social issues and technology and recently came across this article on bigthink.com entitled “Here’s When Machines Will Take Your Job, as Predicted by AI (Artificial Intelligence) Gurus”. It suggests that many top minds think that automation will cost humans their employment, with up to 47% of all jobs gone in the next 25 years. For example, we should get Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven machines in retail by 2031. By 2049, AI should be writing New York Times bestsellers and performing surgeries by 2053. And if you think that there will still be plenty of jobs in the service industry that will be isolated from this effect, the essay suggests that an unlikely task such as folding laundry should be a breeze for AI by 2022.
There is no shortage of stories on this topic. This morning’s local newspaper featured an a article suggesting that a 3D printer will soon be able to create a small house in 10 hours, for $10,000 and that you’ll be able to speak English into a specially designed cell phone and the person you’re speaking to in Tokyo will hear you in perfect Japanese.
There are of course naysayers who refuse to accept these ideas. I recall about 30 years ago I enrolled in an evening class in digital electronics at the local community college. The instructor related a story of how as a young man he was part of a team at IBM who were tasked with the challenge of building a factory that would operate entirely without humans. The project was successful and achieved the goal of producing telephones. When it was proven that it could be done, the entire operation was dismantled. Few would argue that AI could replace most workers, but the question is whether it will happen. For an argument on the other side see “Robo-AI jobs doomsday may, er… not actually happen.”
I can’t imagine a life without a job. I confess that I was one of the early adopters of the idea that the average non-professional would have several different careers throughout out working years. I was a technician, a sales rep, a teacher, an entrepreneur and held senior management positions in diverse industries, just to present a partial snapshot of my life. All of these positions engaged me and challenged me, but it was always exciting to move on to something new. It occurs to me that a life without a job and without the opportunity to advance in experience and income, it would have been a boring existence. I enjoyed working, and I enjoyed being rewarded for my efforts.
This brings me to wondering what the sociologists will predict about how our world will function without jobs. Will this become like permanent vacation? Will people spend their time playing golf, strumming a guitar and creating works of art? It sounds grand until one ponders where these people will find the income to pursue these pastimes. Certainly a few of the very wealthy do share their fortunes with those who have little income but there are many more who resent the idea of paying people not to work. Will there be a massive shift in the way the tax system works. Will we tax the robots for taking our jobs? Or there will be anarchy and chaos in our society!
I feel compassion for those people in the coal industry and in manufacturing who struggle today, but when these predictions come to pass, could we witness a social/political revolution? And as an early baby boomer, it is possible that this could transpire in my lifetime.
Do you sometimes wish that after you have passed from this earth that in a hundred years you would be able to peek into the workings of our world to witness what happened? But then again, I doubt that in our super-consciousness that we would want to spend a lot of time reflecting on how humans managed to mess up the world. We may just want to spend our time in heaven, playing golf and strumming a guitar.
I had no idea what the trigger might be to cause me to write this post, nevertheless I was certain that it would soon become apparent. And there it was, and article on politico.com entitled “How Trump makes us feel.” According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, 13% of people surveyed decided to delay or to make the decision to not have children.
Why title this post “Behind Closed Doors?” It would surprise me if there weren’t a lot of elder orphans (or potential ones) who have had a conversation with their spouses or partners about the future, and the concerns that we would have for our children and grandchildren if we were fortunate enough to have any. It is however never a conversation that we initiate with our friends who have kids; unless of course they introduce the subject.
In recent comments by Stephen Hawking, the preeminent physicist, he has changed his outlook on the future of mankind to suggest that a catastrophic event for the human race is imminent. Not so long ago he was suggesting that in order to preserve earthlings we should be focusing on colonizing another planet in the next thousand years. Now he is view is that it should be more like 100 years.
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that publishes the Doomsday Clock, it’s now 2 ½ minutes to “midnight”, suggesting that the end of humanity may be near.
When we do engage in these conversations about the future prospects, it inevitably comes up that in their time our parents probably had a lot of concerns about our future too. Perhaps I was isolated from the consequences of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust but I look back on those days in the 50’s and 60’s as rather halcyon times. Yes, I recall that air-raid sirens were installed and tested throughout the land, and underground bunkers were constructed but I was never counseled to dive under a desk when the siren was activated. Perhaps our parents decided that if a nuclear war were to occur it would all be over quickly. If you survived the blast, the radiation would finish you off soon enough anyway. I suppose too that they looked upon it as completely out of their control, and in the hands of the politicians and the military.
Contrast this with the constant drip, drip, drip of today’s threats. The environment and global warming are high on the list. Whether you agree with all but a handful of climatologists and scientists that it is caused by humans or not, it is still a fact of life. We can expect more droughts and floods and I recently read that the oceans are rising much faster than was predicted just a few years ago. Then there are the social issues. The political left and right factions are coming to blows and protests abound; terrorism is a constant threat. . People all over the world are dying as a result of religious/political differences. The nuclear threat has never really disappeared but lately it has surfaced as a distinct danger on more than one front.
We are now learning about the likelihood that a huge group of people will arise who are referred to as the “Useless Class”. These are the people who will soon be replaced by robots and highly intelligent computers. What will become of them?
According to Oxfam the richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. They also calculated that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Those who control the money also control the resources. What are the consequences of this trend?
Two years ago Stephen Hawking told the BBC that the development of full artificial intelligence, could spell the end of the human race. His was not the only voice warning of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak also expressed their concerns about where the technology was heading – though Professor Hawking’s was the most apocalyptic vision of a world where robots decide they don’t need us any more.
Although I’m sure that we can conjure up many more potential threats I’ll conclude this discussion with the mention of global pandemics. Experts warn us that we are in the position for a perfect storm for the viral emergence of a global infectious disease.
My disposition is normally that of a “glass is half full” person, and from a personal perspective I am optimistic that I as a Baby Boomer will not be alive long enough to experience the results of these calamities but I confess that do have concerns for the Gen Xers, the Millennials, and their children.
Have you had these conversations behind closed doors?
Last month I read anarticlein The Boston Globe by Billy Barker entitled “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.” A great deal of it resonated with me but one sentence in particular caught my attention. It was this. “Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.”
The essayy caused me to reflect on my life and the friends both in it and those that have passed through it. I doubt that loneliness or isolation was a concept that I understood as a boy on a diary farm in southern Ontario. Most of my time when I wasn’t entertaining myself was spent with my parents or the farm pets. In the one-room school that I attended I made more friends and of course on the bus ride to and from high school even more. And I think at the time that although it was assumed that we would all eventually be married and rear our own families that our bonds would continue for all time.
And then my parents moved to a more distant city and I with them. All my old friends were at least an hour’s drive away, and other than family I had no friends. Soon after the move I went to work and I think that nearly all of the people that I called friends were people that I worked with. And so it continued for most of my life and as I moved from one job or career to another, so would my circle of friends evolve, keeping some and adding some new ones. I acquired some new friends through membership in service clubs and other organizations. And throughout it all the thought never really crossed my mind that I didn’t have enough friends but always left room for a few more.
However, it never occurred to me how great the impact of a career was on my circle of friends until I retired. Suddenly a lot of those people that I could depend on to share a story regularly over a coffee or a sandwich were gone. Now I cherish even more those who remain.
And as for those high school friends that I thought that I would never lose contact with, I haven’t heard from any of them in fifty years. In some ways I envy a few acquaintances who have managed to stay in close contact with people that they have know from their early childhood school days. Of course it was moving away from the place where we lived that severed the relationships but it would still be comforting to have maintained those links.
Fortunate are those elderorphans who enjoy the luxury of having a lot of friends. One day soon I hope that we can have a discussion addressing how we can all meet and keep new ones. The record seems to suggest that most women are much better at this than men. What can we learn from them?
Of all the perils that might befall an elder orphan, dementia is surely the most frightening.
Dementia describes a variety of diseases that are detrimental to the function of the brain. We often think of Alzheimer’s disease which marks the majority of all dementia cases, however, brain damage caused by a stroke or an injury, impairment from Huntington’s disease, are some of the other causes.
This insidious disease slowly embraces its victims and leads them into a fog from which at least in the present day they will never return. We are often teased with news of advances in the fight against dementia. Sometimes it feels like a race to cure Alzheimer’s disease or at least inhibit its advances against the time that we have before it envelops us. There are plenty of on-line resources that describe the symptoms of dementia and the progress that research is making to deal with it.
Fortunate are those of us who have not witnessed the effects and progression of dementia among our family members and acquaintances and the struggle and challenges that their care-givers face and we are aware of the suffering that is inflicted on them. We learn of the drastic steps that those care-givers take to deal with the condition.
As I write this, the legislators in the Province of Quebec are dealing with the debate. Under Quebec’s 2015 law, euthanasia for the demented is specifically excluded arguing that a person who makes a request for medical assistance in dying must be capable of consent. They now want to open a public debate on legalizing euthanasia for persons unable to give that informed consent and allowing people to make advance requests for assisted suicide, giving people with dementia access to the medical procedure.
Those opposing the idea contend that demented patients need to be protected and the wishes that they expressed years ago may not reflect what they would want today.
Quebec is also asking the courts to clarify a section of the federal assisted-suicide law that says the procedure should only be available to those whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable.
The issues came to the forefront as a result of a recent case of a man who is facing second-degree murder charges in the death of his 60-year-old wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease but was refused a doctor-assisted death but whom according to family members was refused help.
Now the question that surfaces is while we remain of sound mind whether we should be off to our lawyers to prepare a document that will deliver the authority to our loved ones and care givers to end our lives when we have lost our mental capacity to make that decision ourselves. There is a great deal more to explore on this matter including how to prepare legally, financially, and otherwise for the possibility that we might succumb to this terrifying disease.
When we arrive on the planet, and probably for the next few decades, the thought of becoming an elderorphan likely never enters our minds. We have parents, aunts, uncles and other relatives not to mention plenty of friends who we know that we could depend on if we needed them. The majority of us possibly embrace the idea of parenthood at some day in the distant future.
Then come the middle years. Perhaps our future elderorphans enjoyed a lifestyle unrestrained by children and just kept putting it off. Perhaps Mother Nature played a cruel joke on them and adoption would be their only path to a family, and perhaps they simply decided that they were not the parenting kind. And life continued on as they enjoyed their time with their spouses, family and friends.
At some point though it may have begun to dawn on them that it might be a good idea to undertake some planning in case they managed to outlive those who were close to them and that they had designated if only in their minds as the people they could turn to for help and support if required someday. But that time was still a long way off, and who could predict the changes that will confront them? No need to hurry. Things always sort themselves out!
As time marches on, the pressure slowly increases towards at thinking about the future. The future elder orphans begin to study their wills. Who will survive to be their executors? Who will be the beneficiary of their estate? But more importantly, who can they designate as their Power of Attorney for financial and other matters and for personal care? Reflecting on their own acquaintances over the years, it becomes obvious that there were a few elder orphan friends, neighbours and relatives who navigated through this potential dilemma. Some were happy and successful outcomes. Some were sad and lonely.
Some elder orphans simply accept that the future is out of their hands and that there is little that they can do to influence the outcome. Others decide to investigate some steps to ensure that they have the best chance of enjoying a happy ending. The planners are probably still reading this. Perhaps they will discover some ideas here that facilitate their quest for that goal.
Opinions vary widely on how many elder orphans there are in our population but it seems that anywhere from 15% to 25% of people over the age of 65 either are elder orphans or likely will become one, and the numbers are trending upwards.
It is reported that U.S. Census data from 2012 showed that about one-third of Americans aged 45 to 63 are single, a 50% increase from 1980; nearly 19% of women aged 40 to 44 have no children, as compared to 10% in 1980. Today, one in three Baby Boomers is unmarried.
Several factors are contributing to the rise including historic low marriage rates. A large number of young people lack the economic security to consider marriage and it is reported that 40% of them are still living with their parents. In mid to lower income groups there are fewer desirable partners and a lot of people believe that marriage is obsolete. These and other factors contribute to the inclination to delay marriage and consequently narrow the window to rear a family.
Statistics suggest that half of all marriages result in divorce and it has been this way for the last forty years when no-fault divorce made it a great deal less complicated including elimination of the requirement for a long separation. People who get divorced and remarried are more likely to divorce again and further narrow the window of opportunity to raise children.
Especially among professional women with careers in law, medicine, finance, education and technology, many women are putting advancement in their career ahead if the desire for a family. With a strong financial foundation of income and savings these women may be less willing to sacrifice their lifestyle by compromising on a less than perfect mate.
Thanks to advances in modern medicine we are simply living longer and so providing an increased chance that we may become an elder orphan.
Whatever the number, it is clear that there are a lot of us. Let’s just assume that it is a very low estimate of 10%. With a combined population of Canada (35 million) and the U.S.A. (320 million) that would translate into a population of elder orphans the size of all of Canada or slightly less than the population of California. Unless they are elder orphans, most people would not be aware of any of the issues that confront us.
If you were to Google it, here’s one of the definitions that you might discover. “An elder orphan is an old person who is single, lives alone, has no children or family member or friend who can act on his or her behalf in handling health, legal and financial issues.”
To some this might conjure up an image of a lonely old person stooped over, dressed in tattered clothes pushing a walker. Contrast this with the depiction of a smiling happy couple enjoying sunshine, sand and sitting on a mountain of disposable income as depicted in Time magazine’s cover story in August 2013. It is a wide spectrum.
Although it serves well to understand the term, much of the audience for this blog and forum won’t consider themselves elder. Most of us would like to achieve the status, but probably long before we achieve that magic age, we become aware that in time we will grow into the role. Probably very few of us in our formative years even gave a thought to the matter.
There is a good chance that deciding not to have kids can lead you to becoming an elder orphan, but it isn’t necessarily so. Childless couples often have plenty of siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews and close trusted friends. Elder orphans likely have few of these, and even fewer who are young enough to build a long term plan around.
It doesn’t matter how you became (or will become) an elder orphan. If you are fine with it, don’t spend any time exploring this web site. However if you are the kind of person who needs a plan to ensure your welfare, perhaps you will find some answers here.
It would be interesting to take a look at statistics that suggested how a person became an elder orphan. In a lot of lives, it was not an issue until the death of a spouse or child, or perhaps illness or incarceration rendered them helpless to assist you or maybe they moved to the other side of the planet. Or possibly there is no trust in the obvious person who might assume the role of our guardian. Some people are simply not good at handling money. If they inherited a fortune, it would soon be gone to fancy cars and homes, exotic vacations and questionable business schemes. Would you want this kind of person to be your power of attorney? Even though they may be your son, daughter or other closest relative, it is doubtful that they would make the list.
So, whether you charted a course for your life that would likely lead you to becoming an elder orphan or you became one by circumstance, you have, or will soon have some decisions to make. Who will care for you if you become mentally or physically incapacitated and how will you deal with your estate matters may top the list.
Finally, I think of elderorphan couples and in the same category as a single elder orphan. Unless they both perish in the same accident, one of them will survive to deal with our dilemma.