It is more common for people to be single and child-free than ever before. Elder orphans – a term indicating baby boomers who are single and do not have children (or are out of contact with them) – are a growing demographic. Without planning ahead, this demographic can end up being vulnerable to being taken advantage of and are more likely to face medical problems and premature death.
People who are aging alone need to make plans while they are independent and functional to minimize risk and complications. Adult children typically help senior parents negotiate healthcare, social services, and housing; without this fallback, elder orphans can reduce their risks by creating their own support structures.
Whether you are part of a church, community group, or social network, it is beneficial to create a community of friends and acquaintances. Many people fear being isolated and disconnected, so creating a regular social routine can help prevent seclusion and depression.
Angie is in her late 50s and has lived in the same city for almost a decade. She is part of a knitting group that meets weekly for tea and conversation. An only child, divorced, and child-free, she knows that she will have to rely on her surrogate family to help her if there are challenges as she ages. “After my father passed away there was no paperwork and it was such a struggle. I knew that I needed to get my legal paperwork in order.”
Elder law lawyers are able to draw up documents to protect those who have become incapacitated. Typically, people will turn to a friend, lawyer, or clergy member to make medical decisions. For financial tasks, a bank’s trust unit can engage with a friend or lawyer to ensure all financial decisions are properly monitored. You can also assign someone to call the lawyer if indications of cognitive decline become evident, or in case of an emergency.
Each community and province provides different resources to its residents. It is helpful to learn about what services are available to you, and when it is appropriate to start taking advantage of them. These resources could be senior-friendly housing, caregiving, home-delivery services for healthy meals, or doctors who make house calls.
Housing can be a considerable source of worry for many older adults. What is convenient and comfortable now may no longer be a few years down the road. Think about whether where you live currently will work for you if you become limited in mobility or are not able to drive anymore. Some people like the social aspects of moving into retirement communities or senior-living facilities, and others want to stay where they are at as long as possible.
If aging in your own home is preferable, you may want to consider consulting with a professional home care agency. Establishing a relationship with a home caregiver before serious health problems develop can help provide comfort and peace of mind. This way when the need arises home caregivers will be immediately available for support and assistance.
As care needs to increase or health deteriorates, a case manager can help adjust your care services over time. A care manager is also able to work with your designated health care agent if you go into the hospital and require rehabilitation or care after you have been discharged.
The key to planning ahead is to hope for the best but plan for the worst. It is a good idea to have it all in writing for the purpose of having a record. It is much easier to handle the stress of any crisis that comes up when you have a plan in place.
Aging alone does not have to be a lonely and stressful process. Creating a social community and taking advantage of the vast available resources helps ease the strain and improves the quality of daily living.