Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Caring for Elder Orphans - Seniors Living Alone

Are you at risk of becoming an elder orphan?  These are people who reach retirement age unmarried, childless, and with no close relatives who can care for them if they become unable to care for themselves.  It is also possible to effectively be an elder orphan if you have adult children with mental, emotional, or physical problems which would make them incapable of caring you.  Careers and other situations could also mean your children may live too far away to be of much assistance.

In a poll conducted by Caring Right at Home, only 25 percent of the respondents indicated they were completely confident they would have adequate family support if they needed care in the future.  There is a good reason for this concern.  Today's average senior citizen will start retirement with approximately seven people in their family who could possibly help them.  By 2050, when many Baby Boomers begin hitting their eighties, that ratio is expected to drop to an average of fewer than three potential caregivers per senior citizen.  In fact, many Baby Boomers will have no one at all who will be able to help them.  People in this situation are known as Elder Orphans.

Elder Orphans May Decline and Die More Quickly

There have been several posts written on this blog about the importance of family, friends and social connections for those who hope to enjoy a long life and satisfying retirement.  People without those connections are much less likely to have positive outcomes.  Some of the problems they could experience are:

*  Hastened cognitive decline (dementia)
*  Faster functional decline (difficulty with self-care)
*  Mental health issues (such as depression)
*  Premature death

How Communities Can Help Elder Orphans

The negative outcomes listed above are not inevitable.  Communities can reach out to help their seniors; in addition, the individuals themselves can plan ahead and make arrangements for their future care.

People who do not have a support system as they age are often a hidden population.  They may be surrounded by neighbors and community members who have no idea how much they are struggling to survive.  Below are steps which communities can take to minimize the problem:

*  Authorities can educate their residents to be aware of the elderly in their neighborhoods so they can help authorities identify anyone who may need a helping hand.

*  Communities can also join the new "Age-in-Place Village" movement, which is simply a way to simplify and organize services and make programs more accessible to the elderly in the area.  These services might include recruiting volunteers to help with home repairs and transportation, organizing Meals on Wheels or hot meals at Senior Centers, and helping seniors find solutions to any other nutritional, housing, transportation and medical problems they may face.  Each person's needs will be different, but they could require help filing their tax returns, dealing with medical bills, finding appropriate housing, or hiring a caregiver. 

How Elder Orphans Can Help Themselves 

No one should face retirement and expect their local community to step in and take care of everything for them.  While local agencies may be helpful, everyone needs to take steps to protect themselves as they age ... especially if they are at risk of becoming an elder orphan.  Even those who have a spouse at the beginning of retirement may eventually discover themselves widowed, and those with adult children may ultimately find their children have their own problems and cannot do a good job of taking care of their parents, too.  In addition, children may live far away and only see their parents two or three times a year. As a result, they may not be aware of some of the problems their parents are having with day-to-day life.

Below are some of the things you can do to minimize your risk of becoming an elder orphan and having no one who is able to care for you on a consistent basis:

*  Consider purchasing a long-term care insurance policy while you are middle aged and still healthy.  The insurance will pay for you to move into a long-term care facility or have an in-home caregiver when you reach the point when you can no longer care for yourself.

*  Instead of a long-term care policy, you could also consider moving into a CCRC ... a Continuing Care Retirement Community.  Many people initially move into independent living apartments or homes in one of these communities.  Later, if you need skilled nursing or memory care, the contract you have with the CCRC will generally guarantee that they will care for you for the rest of your life.

*  Even if you do not buy long-term care insurance or move into a CCRC, you can still prepare for the future by doing everything possible to arrange your affairs so you are secure.  Talk to a financial planner and make sure you have a regular stream of income which will last the rest of your life.  Make alterations to your home so it will be safe and accessible, even if you have surgery or if you are temporarily incapacitated. You may consider purchasing a medical alert system which would make it possible for you to easily contact someone if you fall or become seriously ill. You should also investigate the available support services in your community, should you need them, including available transportation, local in-home care agencies, financial aid, and volunteer organizations.  In addition, check out commercial services such as Amazon and other online shopping services, meal delivery, mail order prescriptions, and laundry services. You should also make a contingency plan for getting whatever care you might need in the future.  Planning ahead will enable you to remain self-reliant for many years.

*  Finally, no matter what other plans you make for the future, be sure to expand your circle of friends.  If you have no family nearby, your friends can become closer than your family.  Friends can fill in the gaps when you need them.  You can share holidays together, give each other rides to doctor appointments, take care of one another's pets, and be an emotional support when you go through difficult times.  The more time you spend developing friendships, the better your future support system will be.

For more information about planning for retirement, CCRCs, long-term care insurance, finding a place to retire, changing family relationships, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of the "Age In Place" movement. I'm sure it is extremely beneficial for orphaned seniors.


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