While medical advancements have made aging easier for some, changes in society may make it more difficult for others. Researchers estimate about 22 percent of Americans are at high risk of aging without a family member or caretaker looking after their needs. This new and growing group is called “elder orphans.”
More adults may not have a spouse or children to help them as they age. That’s partly because childhood obesity rates for those born between 1966 and 1985 were much higher than they were in the past. As a result, more middle age adults may face conditions like stroke and diabetes. So the current generation may be the first to have parents routinely outlive their children. In addition, almost one third of Americans ages 45 to 63 are single.
While no one wants to think about going it alone as they age, you should be prepared in case you find yourself in that situation. Ask yourself these four questions to make sure you’re prepared for the future:
Am I financially prepared? Start saving now for things like medical expenses, home repair, and housework. When you’re on your own, some tasks can be more expensive since you may need to hire help. In addition, you may want to meet with a financial adviser to discuss long-term care insurance. This can help you pay for medical equipment, assisted living, and aides.
Are my wishes known? Advance directives, such as durable power of attorney for health care or a living will, make sure that your wishes related to your health are known to others. Carefully think about what you want and write them down—you want to be very clear. In addition, pick a surrogate you trust who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do so. If there isn’t someone in your life who’s a good candidate, you can ask a doctor to serve as a surrogate.
Who will be my support system? Being an elder orphan doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Surround yourself with people you can rely on to help and support you, like neighbors, friends, and relatives. Before you plan to retire in a new area, think about your support system. You’ll have to work to make new friends if you move. You can meet new people by joining a club or taking a class.
Where do I want to live long-term? You may want to stay in your home, but can you live there alone in the long-term? Think about factors like if you’d prefer to live near people your own age, whether you want to walk or drive to get around, and if you’d like to be somewhere that offers social opportunities.