I often receive telephone calls from individuals who are seeking information regarding care for a spouse or aging parents. The demographics of our country’s older adult population are beginning to change, however. Increases in the number of adults who are childless by choice or circumstance, as well as higher divorce rates, are resulting in a cohort of older adults who do not have immediate family members available to provide assistance with decision-making and care. These older adults are sometimes referred to as ‘elder orphans’. The obvious question becomes “Who will help and advocate for them?”
This question became personal for Carol Marak, a columnist and editor at www.SeniorCare.com, when she and her sisters were caring for their parents. Acknowledging the time, energy, and resources that her parents required, she was struck by the recognition that she did not have anyone available to provide the same type of assistance for her if the need arises.
To address the need for social support for elder orphans, Ms. Marak has created a Facebook page for adults age 55 and over who do not have a spouse or children, who are estranged from their children, or who have children who live far away. The over 8,000 members share events which are happening in their lives and “find friendship and connection.”
Adults who are aging alone and want to plan for future care needs may want to consider a continuing care retirement community. These communities provide multiple levels of living; allowing individuals to be completely independent for as long as they are able, and then supporting them as their care needs change. While this arrangement works well for many people, others may not care for this type of lifestyle or may not have the resources to afford this type of environment.
In 2007, Marianne Kilkenny started an organization called “Women for Living in Community”, which encouraged communal living arrangements for those who are aging alone. Her belief is that “Aging in community is more than shared housing. It’s refocusing our outlook on aging from one that is medical and healthcare centric to one that focuses on community. Wellbeing is more than healthcare; it’s emotional care, and that kind of care that comes from being surrounded by people we know, love and trust, not just by nurses and planned activities.” For those who may consider living with other adults who are not related, she recommends separate bathrooms for everyone, rules about “alone time,” and choosing roommates very carefully. In this type of arrangement, the relationships among those who are residing together become just as important as the shared responsibilities of daily life.
Transportation is a significant need for many older adults, so elder orphans may choose to reside in an urban area where public transportation is readily available and a variety of services are located nearby. Another advantage of an urban area is that a higher concentration of people allows increased opportunities to develop a social network. This social network can serve as a source of support when assistance is required. Some communities around the country have developed what is called a village network, in which members volunteer their talents and expertise to assist each other so that all can age in place. Village networks may also offer opportunities for social engagement and assist members with coordinating professional services.
Additional transportation options for older adults continue to develop as ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft partner with other organizations (such as www.GoGoGrandparent) to make their services more easily accessible and desirable for this population.
Elder orphans who have security concerns have choices which are designed to meet these needs. Eversafe (www.eversafe.com) is a company which seeks to provide financial peace of mind. For a monthly fee, they monitor clients’ financial accounts for signs of unusual activity (such as late payments or changes in spending habits) and alert the client or client’s advocate if potential fraud or damaging activity is suspected. The company will also help the client develop a recovery plan. For those who live alone and wish to have safety measures in place (more than a personal emergency response system can provide), apps such as EyeOn (www.eyeonapp.com) exist. Users can set up a routine check-in schedule and a notification will be sent to their phone at the designated time. If the user doesn’t respond to the alert within 30 minutes, the app will automatically notify up to three emergency contacts.
Since I work for an attorney, I would be negligent not to mention the value of Power of Attorney documents. Information about these documents has been covered in previous articles. Visit our website for information about seminars which can offer additional insights as you plan for aging alone. Our next seminar will discuss The Elder Care Continuum. Join us on July 19th at 3:00pm at 555 Gettysburg Pike, Suite B-300, Mechanicsburg.
Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN