One question that many people ask themselves as they get a little older is, “Who will care for me when I’m old?” People with children do not want to be a burden – and they didn’t have a family for the sake of being taken care of later in life. But, in a sense, children still are a good insurance policy.

Recently, in a LinkedIn group, this concern was shared, “I am not a caregiver, but, I am a senior citizen and wonder who would care for me if I took critically ill?” Some of us chose not to have children, while for others it just didn’t happen. Our work or pets take their place. But, unfortunately, our jobs or cats cannot help us out in case of an emergency or if we become ill.

Do We Need a New Way of Looking at Elderly Care?

Family caregivers are the mainstay of elderly care and long-term care services in America today. Both my parents relied on me – and, their parents depended on them.

In fact, a recent study by AARP found that 11.6% of women aged 80 to 84 were childless as of 2010. At the same time, the caregiver support fraction was about seven potential caregivers for every person over the age of 80. But by 2030, that fraction will decline to four to one. By 2050, it’s expected to fall to three to one.

Simply put, the supply of adult children caregivers will not keep up with the growing demand for elderly assistance.

What Can We Do If We Don’t Have Children to Step Up?

Single people, living alone, have more to worry about than just growing frail. What happens if one partner develops a form of dementia, has knee or hip surgery, or breaks a limb? My sisters and I face this dilemma and so do many of our friends and family. Many of us fall into one of the following categories:

  • Never married
  • Never remarried
  • Widowed
  • Children live far away or none at all

If This Describes You, Here Are Some Suggestions

  • Adopt a (trusted) family that lives nearby and assign part of your will to them (get advice from an elder law attorney first)
  • Negotiate long-term care with your nieces and nephews
  • Live in a joint household of trusted “extended” family members and friends and share the care
  • Find an elder law attorney who specializes in chronic care advocacy
  • Get a will, a living will or other advance directive, a health care proxy, power of attorney and consider long-term care insurance. Check out the Five Wishes
  • Set up your social connectedness with transportation, have a purpose, get a hobby, eat healthy, make friends, attend church, join a support group, and join a senior center
  • Get prepared and learn the long-term care costs in your area

The Following Support Groups and Organizations May Also be Able to Help

  • Family Caregiver Alliance, caregiver.org, (800) 445-8106
  • National Family Caregivers Association, nfcacares.org, (800) 896-3650
  • Share, sharecancersupport.org, (866) 891-2392
  • CancerCare, cancercare.org, (800) 813-4673

These suggestions require due diligence and the advice of an attorney. That said, I encourage you to make preparations now for your later years and communicate your wishes to your family or support team. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get everything organized. The good news is that proper planning can help you live many more years with dignity and in relative safety.

Are you or someone you know the primary caretaker for a loved one? What has your experience been? What advice would you give to someone who is taking on a caretaker role for the first time?

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