Since Robert, a single computer consultant, moved to Florida to care for his aging mother, dating hasn’t been part of his life. He doesn’t have the time or energy. He assists his mom with daily needs in her apartment, takes her to doctor’s appointments, and manages her medications, finances and other details.
“At the end of each day, it’s late, I’m tired and I’m not thinking about trying to get out to meet people,” says Robert, whose mother has dementia and difficulty walking.
At 53, he is not alone. One in three baby boomers is unmarried, a significant increase from 30 years ago, when just one in five people between the ages of 43 and 65 was single. Meanwhile, their parents’ generation is living longer: the number of Americans 85 and older has doubled in the past 20 years and half have Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. And caring for them takes significant time, according to new research from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. On the days family caregivers attend to aging loved ones, they put more than three hours on average into the task.
“The demographic data and what we hear anecdotally tell us that many single baby boomers are spending a great amount of time on their parents’ care and it’s a constant juggle between this and their work lives,” said Kelly Scott. She is the author of “When Your Only Date is Mom,” a free new pamphlet on single boomer caregivers and dating, and vice president of Emeritus Senior Living. The pamphlet is available for free download at www.Emeritus.com/dating.
“What these single boomers end up sacrificing are dating and relationships. This can become isolating and unhealthy, because companionship, intimacy and sexuality are basic human needs that feed our souls,” Scott said.
Scott’s observations are borne out by the work of Dr. Terri Orbuch, a therapist and relationship expert for OurTime.com, the largest online dating site for singles 50 and over. Orbuch is an Oakland University professor and research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. She is also the principal investigator for a National Institutes of Health-funded research project that began in 1986, and author of the recently-released “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.”
“Research shows that a happy romantic relationship can relieve stress and depression, alleviate headaches, improve the immune system and lower blood pressure,” said Orbuch.
Since they are unmarried, these baby boomers also may find themselves assuming more caregiving duties than their brothers and sisters with spouses.
“Sometimes the married siblings will say, ‘You don’t have a family, so you have more ability to handle this,’” Scott said. “Perhaps the situation has never been discussed and the single person has simply taken on the responsibility because it seemed to make sense. This can cause friction in an already difficult situation.”
In addition, some aging parents might not encourage single boomers to seek out relationships.
“Parents may have the expectation their children will focus on them exclusively in return for the years they spent raising them,” Scott said. “Adult children feel a desire and obligation to be there for their parents, and may experience guilt if they aren’t.”
However, not considering dating a priority has far-reaching negative consequences.
“Besides being central to us as human beings, intimate relationships enrich daily life and help us in handling stress, including the stress of caregiving,” Scott said. “Withdrawing from relationships can have a long-term impact, too. “Caregiving can go on for years. Upon the parent passing away, it leaves an emotional void for the single person who has primarily been focusing on them. It can be very hard to know how to resume dating.”
Orbuch counsels many single caregivers who wonder if it’s worth the effort to start dating again.
“This concern is very common, but what they don’t realize is that even though it can be challenging to turn the focus from your parent to yourself, it’s crucial for your wellbeing,” she says. “And having that emotional support and richness will make you a better caregiver in the long run.”
Lack of interest in dating could be a sign of caregiver depression, Scott said.
“Other symptoms of depression may include involvement in dangerous practices, such as dependency on alcohol and tobacco, drug use, or casual sexual liaisons,” she said. “If this begins to happen, caregivers should know that support and help are available to deal with the psycho-social aspects of caring for an aging parent. There are so many resources, including psychologists, counselors, pastors and support groups.”
But just as important is making the effort to bring meaningful romantic intimacy back into their lives, Orbuch says.
“Sites such as OurTime.com, which has enrolled more than 2.5 million singles 50 and over in the past year, are proving to be an ideal way for caregivers to seek romance amid the time-crunch of their duties,” she says. “In addition to being a convenient, safe and fun option, it brings people together who are in a similar stage of life and sharing similar experiences.”
Scott notes that we all have a responsibility as human beings to take care of ourselves.
“If your only focus is caring for your parents, you are denying important needs,” Scott says. “And after talking with your parent about the issue, you may find he or she is very supportive of your desire for a relationship. Many people in the senior generation have had long, stable and successful marriages, and they want the same happiness for their children.”
About Emeritus Senior Living
Emeritus Senior Living is the nation’s largest assisted living and memory care provider, with the ability to serve approximately 49,700 residents. More than 28,000 employees support 478 communities throughout 44 states coast to coast. Emeritus offers the spectrum of senior residential choices, care options and life enrichment programs that fulfill individual needs and promote purposeful living throughout the aging process. Its experts provide insights on senior living, care, wellness, brain health, caregiving and family topics at www.Emeritus.com, which also offers details on the organization’s services. Emeritus is based in Seattle, Wash.; its common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ESC.