‘Elder orphans’ may find their needs are different than others with strong family connections.
Former generations often provided support from the family for an elder family member. However, that isn’t always the case today. Many people lack that support and find that aging alone in their own home can be difficult, according to Next Avenue in “Identifying the Unique Challenges of Solo Agers.”
The health care sector lumps seniors into four segments: 55-64, 65-74, 75-84 and 85 and older. Many assumptions are made about the people in these age brackets regarding their ability to deal with concerns about housing, health, transportation, caregiving and safety, based solely on their age. However, if you don’t have a support system, your experience at age 66 may be closer to the challenges faced by someone in their mid-70s who does.
Through the good works of social service workers, gerontologists and geriatricians, the unique challenges of the “solo ager” are being identified and addressed. A recent research project from the University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work with the Elder Orphan Group has started to uncover data that clarifies many of the issues facing members of this unique population.
The Elder Orphan Group, a Facebook group started more than two years ago, has revealed that members who do have children feel most isolated and alone, when distance keeps them apart from their families. People who never had children were more adept at building social networks for themselves.
Several members of the group created a support team and text each other at predetermined times of the day. If they do not receive a response, there is a plan of action. This creates a sense of community, knowing that the seniors are watching out for each other.
One person and eight friends have taken the next step: they’ve committed to be there for each other in the instance of need and even to serve as legal guardians for each other. They have already consulted with an estate planning attorney to make certain that their plan can be carried out.
The need for help increases with age. However, interventions for making health care decisions are a major concern for solo agers. That was something family members did in the past. When you are aging alone, who should be called in an emergency? Who can make critical healthcare decisions?
Without a support structure in place, solo agers are at risk for lack of care, inadequate care or care that does not align with their own wishes.
Even among this group that is aware of their status and their special need for a network of support, 43% of members have not identified a healthcare decision maker. These are not easy decisions, and neither are decisions about naming an executor.
An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances, including solo agers who would like to make plans for those later years.
Reference: Next Avenue Oct. 10, 2018) “Identifying the Unique Challenges of Solo Agers”