Are you an individual or a couple with no children, siblings, partner, or family? Then you are an elder orphan or solo ager. Are you aging alone, without immediately available family, or relatives who live too far away to be helpful at the time of crisis, is challenging? Are you estranged from your family? The terms childless boomer, elder orphan, and solo ager describe those without an aging supporter. Aging can’t be denied, so plan for your future with open eyes.
Who Will Help You?
Navigating major life decision making is difficult when you are alone, sick or incapacitated, physically or mentally. Elder orphans and solo agers need to plan; considering who will step up to provide practical, physical, and emotional support over time. You may recognize that there is no one in your network at present who can take on this responsibility.
You may have planned on moving into a senior community to take advantage of the social, and cultural activities. Given the pandemic, your decision to move may be on hold. Now is all the more reason to ensure that you have a viable solo aging plan in place. Should you need placement, take the time to consider your options, review your finances, and health status, identify your preferences, and consider getting on a waiting list or two. Realize that your first placement choice may not able available when you truly need it. Back up options are necessities.
There are sobering times that force you to examine the options earlier than anticipated. Consider who will care for you if you break a hip, or have major surgery. Would you be able to navigate a wheelchair or walker in your current bathroom or kitchen? Would friends be able to bring meals and provide support? The pandemic has forced many individuals to reconsider their aging-in-place plans. How does the current reality impact your plans?
AARP has many wonderful downloadable resources in multiple languages to help guide you in developing your personalized plan. Additionally, there are guides for the military and LGBT community. Prepare to Care: A Caregiving Planning Guide for Families
Individuals with “relationships” tend to age better and are happier in the process. Find like-minded individuals. Connect with other elder and solo agers, form your own support and networking group. Call, or video chat to maintain engagement. This is the time to grow your social network, strengthen your ties with family and friends. Facebook has a private Elder Orphans’ group with over 9K members, a mechanism to learn from the experiences of others. There are also a number of other elder orphan groups with a religious or community focus. Home health agencies are focusing on serving this market, and developing unique programs to engage and share their services, helping individuals’ age-in-place.
Who Will Speak For You?
Don’t leave your decision making needs to chance! Who will serve as your spokesperson, advocate, and ensure that your wishes and preferences will be respected? Have you completed your Advance Directives? These documents are state-specific and may include a living will, durable power of attorney for both healthcare and financial decision making and a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). It is important that you discuss in detail your preferences, and validate that the individual you selected to speak on your behalf when you are unable to do so, will respect and abide by your wishes.
Options for Solo Agers
If you do not want to obligate a friend or family member to act on your behalf, or there is no one you feel connected to that your feel would respect your wishes, don’t despair. There are professionals who can assist you in ensuring that that your again plan will be honored. Word of mouth is a place to start and then speak with trusted professionals to find the right advocate for your specific needs.
- Elder attorney
- Certified Financial Planner
- Geriatric Care Manager/ Aging Life Care Professional
- Professional caregiver/companion
- Senior placement agencies
Living Arrangement for Elder Orphans
Most individuals in the United States want to age at home. This involves ensuring that your home has been modified to meet your changing physical needs. Have you consulted a physical or occupational therapist that can provide recommendations based on your specific medical needs? Consulting a professional is especially important when you have a chronic illness, they can help you in making the most appropriate home modifications.
What happens when you can no longer safely remain at home? Have you placed yourself on a waiting list for a Continuing Care Community (CCC), group home, or nursing facility? Individuals are joining forces together to come up with creative living situations. Some are buying homes together, making gaining-in-place modifications and creating some joint spaces for meal sharing and socialization.
Transportation for Solo Agers
If you are no longer driving, how will you get around? Is a ride service right for you, is it available around the clock to meet your needs? Consider your geographic location, weather, and the amount of assistance that you need to get around. The cost of insurance and car maintenance may far exceed the cost of a ride service. As we age, our reaction time and speed of thought diminishes. Consider the safety factor of letting someone else drive you to your destination.
Action Plan for Elder Orphans
- What’s your safety net?
- Consider what your best aging plan is. Who do you need to engage to formalize and ensure that your wishes will be honored
- Advance directives documents reflect your current wishes, are up-to-date, and copies provided to the individuals who are your healthcare and financial power of attorney
- A financial plan meets your aging choices
- What are you going to do to develop new friendships and relationships as you age?
- How are you going to keep your mind active?
- Declutter – donate or discard items that no longer bring you joy and pose a trip or slip hazard. Designate how other items are to be managed in the future