While medical advancements have made aging easier for some, changes in society may make it more difficult for others. Researchers estimate about 27% of older Americans live without a family member or caretaker looking after their needs. This growing group is called elder orphans.
More adults may not have children to help them as they age. That’s partly because childhood obesity rates began to climb in the 1970s. As a result, more middle-aged adults may face conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease. So the current generation may be the first to have parents routinely outlive their children.
While no one wants to think about going it alone as they age, you should be ready in case you find yourself in that situation. Consider these four questions to make sure you’ve planned for the future:
- Am I financially prepared? Start saving now for things like medical expenses, home repair, and housework. When you’re on your own, some tasks can be more expensive since you may need to hire help. Visit www.caregiver.org/hiring-home-help to learn how. You may also want to meet with a financial adviser to discuss long-term care insurance. This can help you pay for medical equipment, assisted living, and home care.
- Are my wishes known? Advance directives, such as durable power of attorney for health care or a living will, make sure that your wishes related to your health are known to others. Carefully think about what you want and write them down—you want to be very clear. In addition, pick a surrogate you trust who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do so. If there isn’t someone in your life who’s a good candidate, you can ask a health care provider to serve instead.
- Who will be my support system? Being an elder orphan doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Surround yourself with people you can rely on to help and support you, like neighbors, friends, and relatives. Before you plan to retire in a new area, think about your support system. Making new friends will take time and effort if you move. You can meet people by joining a club, taking a class, or volunteering.
- Where do I want to live long-term? You may want to stay in your home, but can you live there alone for the extended future? Think about factors like whether you want to walk or drive to get around, your proximity to health care facilities and providers, and if you’d like to be somewhere that offers social opportunities.
Sources: Administration for Community Living, Health in Aging Foundation, American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 190, no. 11, American Association for Retired Persons, Family Caregiver Alliance, U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, American Psychological Association, NCHS Health E-Stats, National Council on Aging, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons