It feels like it was yesterday I was helping my parents with their care needs while working a full-time job. Today, I’m the one who has grown older and occasionally needs help, but unlike my parents, I don’t have adult children or a partner to call on.
I continue to work but my former caregiving responsibilities have turned to self-care instead. How did this happen so quickly? Who do I turn to for help?
In the past, I was more passive, but helping Mom and Dad changed my behavior, and I became more proactive. Now I wish that change had happened sooner than it did. I was 56 when I realized my situation (a solo ager) would likely have more challenges than the kind my parents faced.
As a whole, society is reactive. Especially when dealing with life events like medical emergencies, or if one needs care at home, or the body starts to break down and begins to develop some weird chronic condition.
But we lack planning. No one wakes up in the morning, thinking, “Today I’m going to put a plan together just in case I need help.” No, it just happens.
Living alone during later life is gaining prevalence throughout the world, though its relevance has grown in recent decades on a global level.
This living arrangement, more widespread among women over 65 than men of the same age, is one of the most visible characteristics of the global societies currently underway.
Most of the research on the topic of aging alone has concentrated on the developed world. It’s in the West that single living during later life tends to be highest due to the decline of intergenerational coresidence and the increase of solitary living.
Whether it’s self-care or giving care to another, it happens to all of us. Both affect us sooner or later. It is a multi-generational issue for both genders.
As many as 6 in 10 adults with at least one parent age 65+ say they have helped a parent with activities of daily living such as shopping, preparing and eating food, cleaning, taking medicine, bathing, and dressing.
They also provide companionship and emotional support, both of which play a large part in caregiving. Women, more than men, engage in emotional support when caring for a loved one.
But who does an older person without nearby family or a caregiver turn to for emotional support to help them? Or what if a solo ager living alone has to make a medical decision and wants to discuss it with someone? Whom do we call?
Even now, when I need to see a doctor, I have to make an appointment, drive to the office, sit in the waiting room, then the examination room, and then talk to a nurse only to have to explain it all over again to my doctor when she comes in.
Some medical conditions may not necessitate that much trouble. And believe me, at my age today, I have a lot more health related questions than ever before. How can I get a doctor to answer my questions quickly and easily?
And what about a simple will? Do I have to pay exuberant amount of dollars to write one since I likely will not have a big estate and my heirs are few?
A Gallop poll conducted after Prince’s death showed that 44 percent of Americans do have one. The problem they found was that roughly 3 in 10 of those aged 65 years and older say they do not have a will.
And I know many who do not. They struggle with selecting a health care proxy which makes doing the deed off-putting.
These are real situations that caregivers and seniors run up against. But I recently found an app that provides access to many professionals right from my phone (app), tablet (app), and desktop 24/7.
With a membership, I get advice from physicians, pharmacists, psychologists, dentists, dietitians, and fitness experts, all without an appointment.
It’s done via email, and usually I get an answer back within a few hours. Or, if I’m dealing with an emotional issue, I can call an 877 number and talk with a counselor when needed.
The best thing is, I can use those services as often as I want. I’ve been subscribed to the plan for three months now, and I’ve gotten answers and advice from two dietitians about nutritional issues, four different doctors about chronic conditions, and even had a simple will done at no charge.
This service is called the Family Caregiver Benefit Plan (of which I’m an affiliate) and no, it’s not just for caregivers. It’s for people like me – solo agers, and any adult who has questions about self-care.
I know many solo agers who have health concerns, and sometimes we don’t want to bother a friend or our doctor. That’s my reasoning for trying out the plan, and I’m happy with the results so far!
How far do you live from family or relatives? Are you aging alone? How extensive is your network of friends? Do you have a plan in case of an emergency? What about a will or a health care proxy? How do you envision your life from this point onward? Please share your thoughts and concerns with our community.