Dying alone is a common fear, but it is also a reality for some. “Elder orphans” are those seniors who do not have children of their own, close relatives or other family members to turn to for support during their later years.
Generally, during your life, your spouse if you’re married — parents or siblings if you’re not — will be there to keep your bills paid and may make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. As you age, it’s common for seniors to rely on their adult children to serve as their financial power of attorney or be named as an agent in their Advance Directive for Health Care. While you may have married, you and your spouse chose not to have children of your own. You’re now well in your 80s, and your siblings and parents have since passed. Who will be there to bring your advance directives to the attention of medical personnel?
You may consider creating a committee of close friends, nieces or nephews, or trusted professionals to handle decisions that may need to be made. While you can ask almost anyone to be your health care proxy, in Georgia, you cannot appoint your physician or health care provider who is directly involved in your care. Unfortunately, independent doctors or lawyers may be hesitant to get involved.
If you are uncomfortable asking friends to make these decisions, or if family dynamics prevent you from trusting distant relatives, you may consider a geriatric care manager, a professional advocate who can help coordinate care in your final years. Generally, geriatric care managers are specialized in elder care and can provide a variety of services, from coordinating medical services to making home visits.
You may also consider planning many decisions in advance. Your bank should be able to assist you in setting up your accounts for automatic bill pay. Prescriptions can be filled by a mail-order pharmacy. You may want to provide a copy of your medical wishes in writing to your doctor and the local hospital records department. You can also pre-purchase and coordinate your burial plot and final arrangements.
Continuing care retirement communities may be an option for your living situation. These provide space for independent living, assisted living and nursing home care, should it be needed. These communities can offer single-family homes or apartments with plenty of social activities to keep you active. Should you need assisted living or nursing home care, you would be able to move to a different area of the same facility, maintaining your life in a familiar area.
If senior community living isn’t for you, you still may consider senior programs from your community to help you live at home, independently. Visit www.eldercare.gov, part of the U.S. Administration on Aging or Georgia’s Department of Human Services/Division of Aging Services at www.aging.georgia.gov to find local elder care services in your community. Available services vary from social and recreational groups to financial or legal advice.
Even if you do not have family that you can turn to for care in your later years, you do not have to fear what may happen to you. With properly prepared estate planning forms and arrangements in place, you should be able to grow old with grace and peace of mind that your wishes will be followed.