Preparing For Aging Alone
“Elder orphans” may be a new term that has entered the American lexicon. It refers to those persons who are 65 years of age or older who have no adult children or spouse, or even other close relatives, and are now facing new and unexpected challenges in their lives. When the time comes that they need assistance with their daily or long term needs, these persons may have no one to turn to.
But elder orphans can also refer to seniors who do have children but who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away and rarely visit or communicate with them or are estranged. Most importantly, while some elders have funds to sustain them as they age, most are living on social security alone. Others may have mortgages but after retirement are unable to maintain the monthly payments and face foreclosure. For many of these senior citizens, they face a future marked by physical and social isolation.
Unfortunately, many of our major cities lack the resources or agencies to assist low income, elderly citizens in finding adequate housing or medical care. For some, just getting to a doctor’s appointment is a major undertaking and grocery shopping can take most of the day.
Preparing for Aging Alone
About one-third of individuals between the ages of 45 and 63 are single. A 2012 study found that around 15% of women aged 40-44 had no children, a decision that more women may be making since this is a 5% increase since 1980. Since women traditionally live longer than men, the consequences of aging alone impacts them even more.
In decades past, elderly parents lived with their children in an extended family household. While that may or may not have been an ideal situation, it rarely occurs today. If you are lucky enough, you may have a home with no mortgage, have a healthy spouse, and perhaps children who live nearby who regularly look in on you. You may also have a retirement plan, savings, and social security.
But not everyone will be so fortunate. If you are middle aged or even younger, it is not too late to plan for your retirement and having to deal with a potential loss of mobility, medical issues, and even cognitive decline without the support of others.
Here are some suggestions in preparing for aging alone:
- 1. Talk to your relatives about your situation or move closer to them. Most people who are childless or have no spouse have siblings or cousins. You may consider relocating to their community so you can have their support and look into participating in activities in those towns and cities. Some may live near a college town that often has numerous activities and businesses geared toward the college crowd that you can benefit from as well. Most of these communities have plenty of walking spaces, reasonably priced restaurants, theaters, libraries, bike paths, churches and synagogues. The Milken Institute has a publication called “Best Cities for Successful Aging” that ranks places across the country that are elder-friendly and can offer you the best opportunity for a happy and healthy old age. Perhaps one of these towns or cities is close to a relative.
- 2. Start saving, eliminate debt, and/or invest in a home. Take a few dollars from each paycheck and place it in an account that you will never touch until the time comes when you will really need it. You may also consider trying to eliminate as much debt as possible so that your pension, savings, or social security will go much further. If you pay down your mortgage, you can invest the equity in a smaller place or in a less expensive community.
- 3. Plan on more social activities. Most large communities have adult education classes, cooking groups, book clubs, bicycle riding, bowling, dinner clubs, hiking, and others. It is not uncommon to see softball teams with participants in their 80s and 90s. You may find others of your age who are considered elder orphans and are looking for social connections as well. Studies consistently show that social isolation breeds depression and suicide. About 20% of the over 65 population suffer from depression.
- 4. Change your lifestyle. It is easy to get into an exercise routine so long as you enjoy what you are doing. It is also easier if you exercise with a partner or group. Also, get routine checkups, take your medications, and take care of your teeth. Poor dental hygiene is the source of many chronic conditions. If you are healthy, chances are that you will not suffer chronic depression.
- 5. Keep your mind active. You can delay or even prevent the onset of dementia by keeping your mind active. Reading a book is a great exercise for your brain as is doing puzzles or taking a class that requires reading, discussion, or writing.
- 6. Join social media or dating sites. There are plenty of men and women on numerous dating websites looking for companions. There are also Facebook groups that focus on aging issues and where can find valuable articles on issues of interest to you.
- 7. Appoint a proxy. Consider giving a durable power-of-attorney to friend or relative whom you trust will make the best decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated. Your proxy needs to know your Social Security number, what medications you are on, and where your insurance card is located. If you have no one, there are professionals who handle such matters and can be found online or by calling an elder law lawyer to help you.
Consult Elder Law Lawyer Patricia Bloom-McDonald
You do not have to become an elder orphan facing a grim and lonely future if you are proactive and plan ahead. If you have concerns about aging alone and what you can do to prevent a life of isolation, consult elder law and estate planning lawyer Patricia Bloom-McDonald. In addition to assisting individuals and families with estate planning, she has been an advocate for the elderly and can offer sound advice on how to cope and deal with issues that affect seniors.