One-in-Five Older Adults at Risk of Becoming an ‘Elder Orphan’
Annie might be the world’s most widely-known orphan, but her plight pales in comparison to the struggles of the ever-growing population of “elder orphans”—aging adults with no one in their lives that they can count on to support them. In fact, as many as 22 percent of older Americans (age 65 and above) are at risk for becoming an elder orphan, according to geriatrician, Maria Torroella Carney, MD, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at the North Shore-LIJ Health System.
The steady increase in the number of baby boomers who are divorced, childless or have far-flung offspring means that many aging individuals will lack the built-in family caregiving network that the majority of older adults find themselves relying on in their later years.
“As we get older, we need the help of a support system,” Torroella tells CTV News. “We have to be creative to develop public policies to help individuals who are vulnerable.”
Thankfully, there are also some steps that all middle-aged individuals can take to defend against becoming an elder orphan.
Draw up a financial plan: Ideally, you’ll have been saving at least a little bit of money for retirement for the majority of your working life. Now is the time to seriously consider what you want your future care plan to be, given your financial situation. Do you want to remain at home as you age or move to a long-term care facility? Will you have enough money to pay for care on your own or will you have to seek assistance from government programs like Medicaid? While much will depend on how healthy you are in your later years—diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s can quickly drain even the most robust financial accounts—it’s still best to have some kind of future strategy in place. (See these Top 8 Retirement Planning Myths)
Designate a decision-maker: Who will manage your finances and communicate your health care wishes to medical personnel, should you become incapacitated? Elder orphans often lack an advocate, someone who can speak up for them and make sure that their needs are being met. That’s why it’s vitally important to draw up the necessary documents such as a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR), as well as a health care and financial Power of Attorney (POA) as soon as possible. (Discover What You Can and Can’t Do With POA)
Make health a priority: Go for your regular check-ups and recommended screenings. Get more sleep. Eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Adopt a regular exercise regimen that includes cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training. Stay social and continue to learn new things as you age. These simple, well-known steps bear repeating because, while they won’t guard against every ailment, they are essential factors for maintaining good health as you age.
Here’s some more information to help you on your healthy living quest:
What steps are you taking to avoid becoming an elder orphan?