Sometimes people end up aging alone, by choice or circumstance, with no younger generation relatives to help with errands, housework or other tasks that can become challenging due to age or illness. Recently, a new term has been coined to describe such people: elder orphans.
Within the growing number of older adults, there are more and more adults over the age of 65 who are alone. These individuals are coming to grips with independently aging well or finding ways to get support when they need it.
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
The United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging put together “A Profile of Older Americans: 2015” and it shows just how much the senior population is increasing:
*The population age 65 and over numbered 46.2 million in 2014, an increase of 10 million or 28% since 2004.
*Between 2004 and 2014, the population age 60 and over increased 32.5% from 48.9 million to 64.8 million.
*About one in every seven, or 14.5%, of the population is an older American.
*About 29% (13.3 million) of noninstitutionalized older persons live alone (9.2 million women, 4.1 million men). [This represents] 36% of older women and 20% of older men. The proportion living alone increases with advanced age.
*Almost half of older women (46%) age 75+ live alone.
*A relatively small number (1.5 million) and percentage (3.2%) of the 65+ population in 2014 lived in institutional settings. Among those who did, 1.2 million lived in nursing homes.
What is clear to number crunchers and other experts is that there are going to be more people living longer and solutions will be needed to assist them with having a quality life if illness presents limitations.
Procrastination Isn’t the Answer
As the actress Bette Davis said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” This is no time to be in denial, experts caution, and the more preparation the better.
The question isn’t where do you live, but where do you want to live? Co-housing isn’t just a concept for college age folks, but a way to age with support from like-minded souls. Things to consider are walkability, public transportation, and what you want and need access to nearby.
Medical insurance does not pay for in home care services, but long-term care insurance does and so do some life insurance policies. Start putting aside funds to be used for things like a helper in the home someday. This is particularly important for the elder orphans who may not be able to rely on an adult child to drive them to doctor’s appointments, pick up items at the grocery store, or help tidy up the house from time to time.
Friends—of any age—are so important to overall wellbeing in life, and they can help with practical matters, such as providing a ride, checking in during illness and more. Having friends, staying connected in meaningful ways can help ward off loneliness and depression, which have been connected to dementia and a shorter life span. There should be at least one person who can be completely trusted—maybe a friend or relative or an elder law attorney—who can act as a proxy and have access to all data, such as insurance cards and a list of medications.
Starting today, no matter what age, adopt best practices for aging healthy such as exercising regularly and eating a good diet.
To find out more about elder orphans, their concerns and solutions for aging alone, check out the Facebook group.