The AARP recently reported that members of “The Greatest Generation,” with their large families that made up the “baby boom,” have an average of 7.2 family members who might provide care for them, should they need it. The boomers, however, with smaller families, a higher divorce rate, and with many being “childless by choice,” will have far fewer options. This is a generation who prides themselves on their individuality and independence—which may be put to the test as they’re entering their senior years.
Everyone should prepare for the possibility of needing care during their later years. Articles on that subject usually urge readers, “Talk to your family as you plan.” But what if you live alone? What if you never married, or are divorced? What if you have no children? More and more seniors will be asking themselves these questions, say experts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 million seniors today are single and living alone—and as time passes, that will be just the tip of the iceberg.
Government and private agencies are gearing up to provide support for this cohort, which some experts are calling “elder orphans.” Data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study predicts that close to one-fourth of seniors will find themselves in this situation as they deal with health challenges ranging from mobility and sensory problems to Alzheimer’s disease. Step one for these seniors is to learn about support services.
If you live without a spouse or partner and have no adult children, you can, in a sense, serve as the caregiver for your future, older self. Do your homework and create a safety net. Get your legal and financial ducks in a row. Talk about your options with a financial advisor, elder law attorney and perhaps a geriatric care manager (now also referred to as an aging life care expert). These professionals can be an important resource both during the planning process, and as your needs change. You also might choose a trusted friend to serve as your financial and health care agent. Spread out the responsibility for greater peace of mind.
Just as important, seniors who live alone need a plan to stay connected. Did you know that our brains perceive loneliness much in the same way they do physical pain? As we grow older, we run the risk of isolation when physical and cognitive challenges make it harder to get out and about. The resulting loneliness raises the risk of depression and a host of health problems. Make it a goal to cultivate a circle of friends now. Join clubs, consider postponing retirement, and remember that volunteering is a great entrée to a larger social circle! And think about how your current home will help you—or hinder you—in keeping up relationships as you grow older. Would it be accessible if you developed mobility challenges? Could modifications make it a better fit? Could you access alternative transportation if you were unable to drive? If you answer “no” to these questions, you might consider moving to a more accessible home, or a senior living community.
Planning for Home Care
Most seniors wish to age in place—to live in their own long-time homes. If living independently at home is your goal, be sure to put home care into your contingency plan. Home care can fill in the gaps if certain tasks become too challenging. You can arrange for a qualified home caregiver to come every day of the week, or occasionally as needed. Home care workers support the health and safety of senior clients—and preserve their dignity and independence. You might hire a professional home caregiver to:
- Help with housekeeping, laundry and other household chores.
- Assist with personal care, such as bathing, grooming, dressing and going to the toilet.
- Plan and prepare meals, including special diets.
- Transport you to the market, doctor’s appointments, and other trips into the community.
- Assist with healthcare and medication management.
- Provide companionship, and promote socialization outside of the home.
Check out available care in your area before you need it. You can hire privately or through a registry, but consider that you would be on your own in managing the caregiver, at a time when physical and cognitive challenges could make that difficult. Read “Hiring a Home Care Worker: The Agency Advantage” in the October 2013 issue of the Assisting Hands “Hand in Hands” online newsletter to learn more.
Experts tell us that even as Americans are living longer than ever, those bonus years won’t necessarily be healthy ones. Planning ahead raises the odds that even if we face mobility, sensory or cognitive challenges, we’ll continue to have the best possible quality of life—and the independence that we’ve always treasured.
Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2016.