Ageing Without Children

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The fears of people ageing without children reflect the wider ageism in society

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Ageing without children’s (AWOC) survey of 400 people ageing without children identified that the biggest fears they had were

  • The biggest fear (28%) was having no one to speak up for them or act in their best interests when they could no longer do so for themselves
  • 26% were worried they had no one to call on in emergency
  • 23% feared being lonely and losing their peer group
  • 18% were afraid they would be abused or neglected
  • Other major issues were; being cut off from younger generations, feeling excluded because of not having children and particularly grandchildren and worries about what would happen at the end of their life

Looking at the results of the AWOC survey was difficult. People expressed profound and deep seated concerns about their old age. As someone who has spent 20 years working in the age sector, it has been in some respects quite disheartening to see how little progress has been made to reduce peoples fear of ageing and ageism itself. It really is not OK that nearly 30% of people ageing without children think that without having anyone to speak for them, they will simply be ignored or pushed to the bottom of the pile. It is all the more worrying because the people expressing this concern most vociferously are people ageing without children who are caring or have cared for their own elderly parents. The quotes below are typical of the concerns people expressed in the survey

“Nobody to speak up for me when I cannot speak up for myself – especially where healthcare is concerned. My mother died recently, aged 93, and had she not had me she would not have got anywhere near the level of support from doctors, social workers, carers etc, as she did”

“I will have no-one to look out for me and my interests when I become frail, as I am currently doing for my father who has been diagnosed with dementia. The ‘system’ is not geared to doing this it assumes there are family members to do this”

“You hear terrible stories of abuse at care homes – often it is only exposed because the children or grandchildren become concerned and are able to prove that it’s happening”

“I have had to do a great deal for my Mother particularly over the last 10 years……It has made me think ahead and realise that when my time comes and if I get sick etc. when I am old, there will be no-one to do for me what I have done for her, I will be at the mercy of the system and the random decisions of people who, even if they do their best, cannot possibly care at the same level as a relative / loved one. In addition, if I can’t communicate well or have dementia, the people ‘caring’ for me won’t know anything about my likes and dislikes, the little things that might make so much of a difference in daily life”

The people saying these things had been through the health and social care systems with their own parents. They know the realities of fragmented services that don’t communicate with each other, over stretched staff and lack of resources and how much time has to be spent chasing around for things that should be happening but aren’t.

It goes without saying that adult children should not have to spend their time trying to coordinate services for their parents and be constantly pushing and badgering to ensure the care their parents are supposed to be receiving actually happens.

However for people who have no family to push and lobby on their behalf, the fear of being ignored, poorly treated or simply forgotten is acute.  As the responder below says

“Who will do all the things I currently do for my ageing parents, from helping them overcome the terror of dementia, to buying their clothes to standing up for them when they are being ignored in hospital?”

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  1. bri says:

    Maybe we should get together and try to help each other out as we are all in the same boat? I don’t mean live together but at a local level form some sort of group. Or maybe just keep in contact by email, forums or phone. I would be interested in what others thought.


    • kirstywoodard says:

      Hi Bri, we are trying to do exactly that! set up local AWOC groups where people can get together to
      – help people build local networks/contacts with other people ageing without children
      – help raise awareness of the issue locally
      – help come up with solutions to some of the issues that people have identified as being of concern to them as they age without children

      we have 4 pilot groups planned in Leeds, Sheffield, London and Sussex. If they work and if we can find funding then we will try to roll out nationally. In the meantime a lot of people use the facebook group. if you want more info, do drop us a line at


  2. Heledd Wyn says:

    As a solicitor working in the later life field – we are often called upon to assist with the financial aspects of later life issues; e.g. we are appointed as attorneys for individuals who have no family (or often do not choose their family!) and do our utmost to ensure that the care provided for these individuals is optimum.

    We ask clients to tell us their likes & dislikes, what they would or would not want – essentially leave us a to do list! We can then act as their advocate and ensure that they get the care they need.

    We will not get involved in welfare decisions, but can often facilitate care issues by simply knowing the right people to call upon and which bits of legislation to quote at them when they say that it is not their problem.

    It is not perfect and not for everyone but we do work hard with people to think about planning for later life – and a lot of people do. There is a great deal that can be done in advance that will mean that later life is not the scary place it could be.

    Being pro-active about this rather than re-active is enormously helpful.


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