In a previous article, Building an Aging Alone Plan, I pointed out that living alone as we get older doesn’t support optimal health. And, if we’re smart, we’re building a strategy to create support and close ties.
Another common theme for older adults living at a distance from family is “Who will care for me if I need help?” It’s the question I asked myself many years ago after helping my parents with elder care needs.
When Mom’s health declined and Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my sisters and I stepped in to help. I have no daughter or son to do the same for me, nor do many other older adults, and it’s why we must create strategies that replace family caregivers.
Today’s 17 million “solo agers” are already creating a demographic that is unprecedented in American history. And that number triples for the world. It was declared that the aging alone segment would be a hidden tsunami.
“Older age is a time of life when people often need to rely on family, friends, and other social relationships for care they no longer can do for themselves. If an elderly adult lacks those relationships, however, they may have to lean more heavily on paid professional care, potentially leading to a lower quality of life and higher costs for families and government.”
In research, academic scientists found that older adults are less likely to have a relative living nearby. The share of retiring adults with a relative in their neighborhood (outside their home) fell from 34 percent in 1994 to 22 percent in 2014. And the data predicts the number will continue to rise well into the next decade and beyond.
Giving care to an older adult requires a lot of time and energy. The tasks my parents needed were my wake-up call as to why I needed a caregiving plan and why I encourage others at risk of aging alone to have one as well.
You and I simply cannot afford to ignore planning for the long-term because facing the challenges alone will put you in uncompromising situations.
Retirement and older age will look much different for baby boomers than it did for our parents and grandparents. We’ve been caught in the transition from institutional responsibility for retirement security to an increasing amount of individual responsibility.
Pensions are largely a thing of the past, which means many of us are responsible for our own preparedness.
If a person does not have offspring to rely on, chances are they will have to pay for care when needed, and since it’s costly, my advice is to create a close knit group of peers who will share the care.
The personal support team offers one another medical rides, help at home when ill, wellness checks, and simply lending an ear when life gets tough. These are some of the biggest challenges an older adult lives with.
About 30 percent of solo agers prefer a supportive lifestyle like moving to an Independent and Assisted Living community, or CCRC, for the sake of having nearby assistance and built-in activities.
Recently, I contacted close to 20 life care communities and they reported nearly 30 percent of the residents to be solo agers. Before moving into one, make sure the lifestyle fits your preferences and the monthly expenses won’t drain the budget.
However, other shared lifestyles are cranking up. Co-housing developments, tiny house villages, and sharing our homes with roommates were growing rapidly in interest before Covid, and perhaps will hitch up again post vaccination. Those who prefer this over senior housing do so because they feel more freedom and connectedness with the larger community.
When choosing this style of housing, make sure you have the ability to be mobile and can drive. Living in the suburbs has the potential to create isolation and loneliness.
Adults without family support also must have a healthcare proxy or arrange for future legal guardianship – someone who will take over in a fiduciary capacity if the person cannot make decisions for themselves.
The agent or proxy could be a relative or a friend or even a professional fiduciary or private guardian. Solo agers have a heightened need to have these legal docs in place while they are still young and healthy since no adult child will be rushing in to help with decisions.
Plan early and think through the process of selecting a trustworthy agent; someone you can count on wholeheartedly to follow your wishes.
There are a million things to plan for, but you need to start with health, housing, support system, finances, legal documents, and transportation. These are the top issues that most older adults will and do face.
Your plan should start with action steps that compensate for the top worries:
Growing older may seem far off, and since most of us cannot fathom anything significant enough that far down the line, we do nothing or the very least we can to get by.
Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatrician, says, “Human beings have a very limited ability to accurately predict or even imagine the needs of their future self. This is especially true when that future contains scary possibilities and lies decades in the future.”
After much research and reading, I’m convinced a plan for the long-term does not require accuracy, because life is dynamic and there’s nothing accurate about the future.
However, if we carefully observe and mentally take note of what elders live through, there’s a chance that we can learn through observation and make a fairly thorough plan for our future.
Then we can avoid the bi-product of not planning which, according to Dr. Bill Thomas, is this: “People who are not prepared get care that is chosen by someone else.”
How close do you live to a friend or relative? Do you have a support group or community? How often do you review your care plan? Please share with our community.