“I just turned 74, and I’m still in great health; but I am concerned about my future. My husband died last year after living with dementia for 8 years. We have no children, and my only relative, a nephew, is now living in Alaska. I don’t know what will happen to me if I get sick and cannot care for myself any longer. What should I do?”
This widow is facing what has been coined the “elder orphan” or “unsupported elder” problem. Estimates state that about 23% of Baby Boomers will likely be elder orphans. What can be done to plan for aging without family caregivers?
- Be intentional about where you live. Living in an area with mass transit or that is walkable can help you to age in place. Some communities are getting an Elder Friendly designation, and some areas are establishing a Senior Village Program to help their elder residents. You could also consider a Continuing Care Retirement Community that will provide a variety of supports to help you as you age. Think ahead and be proactive and intentional about where you live so that you can still get your needs met even if you lose the ability to drive.
- Build a social network. By expanding your circle of potential helpers, you may find friends to rely on to pitch in and watch out for you. This is an important part of your aging safety net, especially for seniors without family. Look for friends at church or in any volunteer organizations you help; neighborhood groups and senior centers are also good places to start. The idea is to have a group of people you can turn to when you need a little extra support.
- Hire experts and agencies. Many communities offer a variety of experts and agencies that you can hire to build your elder care team. These professional caregivers can include Aging Life Care Specialists, daily money managers, elder law attorneys, and financial planners. Many seniors without family turn to a hired elder care team to help them manage the aging process. These professionals can help you arrange home services if needed and watch for signs of malfeasance in your financial situation. They can also help you locate other services you might need, such as meal delivery, handyman assistance, transportation assistance, and senior centers.
- Put legal protections in place. You should complete a durable power of attorney to name someone to manage your financial affairs in the event you can no longer handle them on your own. If you don’t have someone you trust, you can set up a revocable trust and appoint a professional trustee in your place (more on this in a future blog). You should also complete an advance directive for healthcare and name a health care agent to ensure your wishes are carried out if you aren’t able to make health care decisions on your own. You may have a friend or neighbor or even a distant relative that is willing to play this role in your care.
Aging without a safety net can be difficult, but family members are not the only caregivers available. If this situation sounds familiar to you, please give our office a call for a complimentary phone consultation at (404) 843-0121.