Supporting Single Seniors
The latest U.S. Census showed that fewer Americans are marrying, and fewer are having children. The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) recently urged federal, state and local agencies to ensure that all seniors are served, regardless of marital status. This includes attention to the challenges faced by single seniors.
According to the AGS, the number of unmarried seniors has grown by 50 percent since 1980. Most of these older adults are divorced or widowed. But an increasing number are arriving at age 65 having never married or having had children. Given our traditional reliance on informal elder care provided by spouses and adult children, what will this trend toward single living mean for our aging nation?
To an extent, the challenges of aging are the same, no matter what a person’s relationship status. And each family is different. Being married with children is no guarantee of care support: While some seniors have a network of adult children and other relatives who are willing and able to provide care, others may have children who live at a distance, or are unwilling to help. Single people actually may have done a better job throughout life of building up a network of friends. However, when facing health challenges, they often hesitate to ask for the same level of help that they would from families.
For single seniors, advance planning is especially important. Here are four building blocks that should be part of your successful aging strategy:
Be prepared. Begin early to plan a "safety net" for practical, legal and healthcare issues. Create advance directives for healthcare, put a financial plan into place and establish an estate plan. Many professionals can help, including elder law attorneys, geriatric care managers and financial planners.
Be realistic. Even if you have always treasured your independence, health changes might make it hard to live on your own. Mobility and sensory challenges or the effects of Alzheimer’s disease might mean that moving to a supportive living environment is the best choice. Other seniors "age in place" at home with support services. Consider investing in long-term care insurance, which can provide increased options if you need care in the future.
Create connections. Did you know that loneliness leads to depression and raises the risk of dementia and heart disease? Even as you keep in touch with your siblings or other family members, take steps to increase your social network in other ways. Maintain your activities with volunteer groups or your faith community. Join a senior exercise group. Enroll in adult education classes. In many cities today, seniors are even joining together in nonprofit groups to support each other and arrange for services in their homes—the "village movement."
Do your homework. Before you need them, learn about the services that are available to support seniors. The national Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov) and your local Senior Services agency are good places to begin learning about senior transportation, senior centers, adult day care, delivered meals and other services. Learn how to adapt your home to meet changing needs. Check into technology that can help keep you safe at home, such as a personal alarm system.
The Role of In-Home Care
In-home care can be an important support for maintaining the highest possible level of independence. Health and personal care aides provide service to the elderly in their own homes. Care is available for a few hours a week, all the way to extended, 24-hour live-in care. In-home caregivers provide:
- Assistance with personal hygiene, including bathing, grooming and dressing
- Household assistance, such as light housekeeping, laundry and removing fall hazards
- Meal planning, grocery shopping and preparing meals that meet clients’ dietary requirements and preferences
- Health management support, including transportation to medical appointments and the pharmacy, and assistance with self-administered medications
- Socialization and companionship, transporting clients to favorite activities and providing stimulating activities in the home
How do you choose a caregiver? For seniors who live alone, with no family in the vicinity, it’s all the more important to choose carefully. Working with a reputable home care agency can provide a greater degree of quality and security than hiring privately. Agencies assess the needs of senior clients, determine what services are needed, select a compatible caregiver, monitor the care provided, and arrange for backup if necessary. Care provided by an agency costs a bit more on average than a "gray market" private hire, but the oversight, coordination of care and attention to legal and personnel issues are a valuable plus.
Advance planning for our senior years is important for everyone. Single seniors can preserve their treasured independence by arranging for the help they need.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.