As baby boomers begin to reach retirement age, many make decisions that will impact how they live the rest of their lives. While most older adults want to stay independent for as long as possible, many underestimate the care they will eventually need. According to Senior Care, 69% of Americans will require long-term care, but only 37% will plan for it in the future. As they age, many older adults will rely on family members, such as adult children or their spouse, to care for them as they need additional support. However, for senior orphans, or those who lack a family member to care for them, aging can look a lot different. Nearly one-quarter of Americans are currently or will be elder orphans in the future.
Older adults isolated for long periods are more at risk of health concerns than those who are not. Adults who consider themselves lonely can experience cognitive decline, trouble completing daily tasks, and develop heart disease and chronic illnesses. Medical complications, mental illness, mobility issues, and access to healthcare are also real concerns for socially isolated older adults. Many elder orphans do live full and happy lives, but aging can pose additional challenges preventable with proper planning.
While we can’t avoid the physical, emotional, and mental challenges accompanied by aging, we can prepare for them before they occur. Whether aging alone is an intentional choice or not, we should all prepare for what the future might look like if we happen to age independently. Here are a few ways to start preparing now:
Create a support team
If you are aging without family or friends who can offer you support, it’s important to build your team. Think about those you trust—perhaps a physician, clergy person, social worker, attorney, or a financial planner and ask them to be a part of your care team. Together, these individuals can work to ensure that your wishes are upheld as you age. If you are still in your working years, you may consider having these discussions with those you trust earlier. This can help you establish a care team before you need their support.
Consider how you want to age
If you foresee yourself aging alone, it’s important to think about how and where you want to spend your later years. You might consider adjusting your living situation so that weekly tasks, like going to the grocery store and doctor’s office, are feasible. Many senior orphans consider moving into communities, like assisted living or continuing care retirement communities, to better prepare for their future. These communities offer built-in social networks, easily accessible healthcare, and offer support with daily tasks.
Plan early and often
As you begin planning for the future, assess your family history. If you have a long line of heart disease, cancer, or a history of early death, you should start planning earlier and reassess your plan to reflect your needs.
Instill healthy habits
If you want to make your own decisions later in life, you have to start taking care of yourself now. Eating a healthy diet and exercising can make a positive impact on how we age. Staying engaged and active can help prevent cognitive decline and keep our brains sharp for longer.
Develop and maintain a social life
Loneliness and social isolation can lead to cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, and even early mortality. The best protection against depression and loneliness is to connect with others often. Joining senior clubs, recreation centers, or volunteering can all help ward off loneliness and isolation while giving you a platform to connect with others routinely.
Older adults are more at risk of developing chronic illnesses and diseases that require additional healthcare such as doctor’s visits or medication management. For those without caregivers, healthcare arrangements should be made in advance. One option is to appoint a healthcare proxy. This process legally designates a person to act on behalf of a patient and allows them to make medical decisions when necessary. While it’s best to choose someone, you’ve known for a long time, such as a friend or former colleague, social workers can also act as a healthcare proxy when necessary.
In addition to appointing someone to advocate for your healthcare needs, it’s also important to compile important documents somewhere easily accessible. This might include your living will, which will help identify your end of life wishes, as well as your do-not-resuscitate order if applicable.
Many older adults will require assistance with managing their finances, especially for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Generally, many aging adults assign their adult children to manage their finances. However, there are plenty of options for those without caregivers or family support. Here are a few things you can be doing now to ensure you’re prepared for the future:
• Seek Professional Help. CPA and financial advisors can help provide money management services such as paying bills, facilitating required minimum distributions, reconciling bank statements, and end of life planning.
• Authorized Signature. If you have children or friends who are long-distance, you might consider granting them permission as an authorized signature on your account. This permits them to sign checks but doesn’t give ownership of the account. This setup can be a good option for managing bills and other recurring payments. As always, you should only give financial access to those you trust completely.
• Money management programs. For those who prefer outside help, there are companies you can hire to handle bill payments and other financial matters, specifically designed to serve the elderly. You can find these programs through the America Association of Daily Money Managers.
Our communities at Maplewood Senior Living offer a wide variety of services to ensure that residents feel supported, especially for those without family. Regularly scheduled activities, exercise classes, and support groups encourage residents to socialize and decrease the risk of loneliness and isolation. To learn more about our communities, please contact us.
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