Aging without Family: Senior Orphans

As baby boomers begin to reach retirement age, many make decisions that will impact how they live the rest of their lives. While most older adults want to stay independent for as long as possible, many underestimate the care they will eventually need. According to Senior Care, 69% of Americans will require long-term care, but only 37% will plan for it in the future. As they age, many older adults will rely on family members, such as adult children or their spouse, to care for them as they need additional support. However, for senior orphans, or those who lack a family member to care for them, aging can look a lot different. Nearly one-quarter of Americans are currently or will be elder orphans in the future.

Older adults isolated for long periods are more at risk of health concerns than those who are not. Adults who consider themselves lonely can experience cognitive decline, trouble completing daily tasks, and develop heart disease and chronic illnesses. Medical complications, mental illness, mobility issues, and access to healthcare are also real concerns for socially isolated older adults. Many elder orphans do live full and happy lives, but aging can pose additional challenges preventable with proper planning.

Life Planning Tips for Seniors

While we can’t avoid the physical, emotional, and mental challenges accompanied by aging, we can prepare for them before they occur. Whether aging alone is an intentional choice or not, we should all prepare for what the future might look like if we happen to age independently. Here are a few ways to start preparing now:

Create a support team
If you are aging without family or friends who can offer you support, it’s important to build your team. Think about those you trust—perhaps a physician, clergy person, social worker, attorney, or a financial planner and ask them to be a part of your care team. Together, these individuals can work to ensure that your wishes are upheld as you age. If you are still in your working years, you may consider having these discussions with those you trust earlier. This can help you establish a care team before you need their support.

Consider how you want to age
If you foresee yourself aging alone, it’s important to think about how and where you want to spend your later years. You might consider adjusting your living situation so that weekly tasks, like going to the grocery store and doctor’s office, are feasible. Many senior orphans consider moving into communities, like assisted living or continuing care retirement communities, to better prepare for their future. These communities offer built-in social networks, easily accessible healthcare, and offer support with daily tasks.

Plan early and often
As you begin planning for the future, assess your family history. If you have a long line of heart disease, cancer, or a history of early death, you should start planning earlier and reassess your plan to reflect your needs.

Instill healthy habits
If you want to make your own decisions later in life, you have to start taking care of yourself now. Eating a healthy diet and exercising can make a positive impact on how we age. Staying engaged and active can help prevent cognitive decline and keep our brains sharp for longer.

Develop and maintain a social life
Loneliness and social isolation can lead to cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, and even early mortality. The best protection against depression and loneliness is to connect with others often. Joining senior clubs, recreation centers, or volunteering can all help ward off loneliness and isolation while giving you a platform to connect with others routinely.

Challenges for Elder Orphans

Healthcare

Older adults are more at risk of developing chronic illnesses and diseases that require additional healthcare such as doctor’s visits or medication management. For those without caregivers, healthcare arrangements should be made in advance. One option is to appoint a healthcare proxy. This process legally designates a person to act on behalf of a patient and allows them to make medical decisions when necessary. While it’s best to choose someone, you’ve known for a long time, such as a friend or former colleague, social workers can also act as a healthcare proxy when necessary.

In addition to appointing someone to advocate for your healthcare needs, it’s also important to compile important documents somewhere easily accessible. This might include your living will, which will help identify your end of life wishes, as well as your do-not-resuscitate order if applicable.

Financial Planning for Seniors

Many older adults will require assistance with managing their finances, especially for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Generally, many aging adults assign their adult children to manage their finances. However, there are plenty of options for those without caregivers or family support. Here are a few things you can be doing now to ensure you’re prepared for the future:

How to Plan for Your Future Financially

• Seek Professional Help. CPA and financial advisors can help provide money management services such as paying bills, facilitating required minimum distributions, reconciling bank statements, and end of life planning.

• Authorized Signature. If you have children or friends who are long-distance, you might consider granting them permission as an authorized signature on your account. This permits them to sign checks but doesn’t give ownership of the account. This setup can be a good option for managing bills and other recurring payments. As always, you should only give financial access to those you trust completely.

• Money management programs. For those who prefer outside help, there are companies you can hire to handle bill payments and other financial matters, specifically designed to serve the elderly. You can find these programs through the America Association of Daily Money Managers.

Aging at Maplewood Senior Living

Our communities at Maplewood Senior Living offer a wide variety of services to ensure that residents feel supported, especially for those without family. Regularly scheduled activities, exercise classes, and support groups encourage residents to socialize and decrease the risk of loneliness and isolation. To learn more about our communities, please contact us.

You’ve Received an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Diagnosis—Now What?

According to the World Health Organization , dementia is a condition that causes continuous problems with memory functions like thinking, remembering, and changes in behavior. While everyone experiences forgetfulness on occasion, people diagnosed or living with Alzheimer’s or dementia experience these changes more often.

As time goes on, these changes in memory and behavior can get worse. While forgetfulness can be common amongst older adults, dementia is not a normal part of aging. However, there are nearly 10 million new dementia cases each year, with Alzheimer’s disease making up nearly 70% of all diagnoses. While each individual’s case is different, after you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you might be thinking…now what?

You don’t have to wonder about that question alone. In this post, we’ll go through how you can cope with an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis.

Coping with an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Diagnosis

For some adults, getting a diagnosis can be a long process. Noticing symptoms, scheduling appointments and tests can be an emotional process. While each person is different, once you finally receive a diagnosis, it’s not uncommon to experience a wide range of emotions, or even to feel numb. You might be wondering what living with Alzheimer’s or dementia is going to be like.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are a few of the most common emotions people with a dementia diagnosis have experienced:

• Anger- A dementia diagnosis can change the plans you had for your future. It’s natural to feel angry after a diagnosis, especially when you realize the course of the disease cannot be controlled. But there is still hope for a fulfilling life.
• A Sense of Loss- Realizing the direction of your life is not what you had anticipated can cause you to grieve over the plans you have lost.
• Denial- It might take some time to process the diagnosis. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed but it’s important to give yourself time to adjust.
• Relief- A diagnosis can validate concerns you about any symptoms you have been experiencing. You might feel relieved to know the changes you experienced were due to an illness.
• Isolation- Your diagnosis might make you feel isolated and different from those around you. While this feeling is expected, it’s important to know that you are not alone.

Accepting an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Diagnosis

Processing your diagnosis can take some time. However, as you accept your diagnosis, you might find new ways to move forward while cultivating a fulfilling future for yourself and loved ones.

It’s important to find ways to take care of yourself both emotionally and physically. Journaling is a great way to identify how you’re feeling, while finding new ways to express yourself. Many communities have support groups that can make it easier for you to cope with an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis.

This can be a wonderful opportunity to build a support system to help you along your own dementia journey. While you work through your own emotions, you might be thinking about sharing the news of your diagnosis with family and friends.

Sharing Your Dementia Diagnosis with Family and Friends

It’s completely normal to be hesitant about sharing your diagnosis with your loved ones. But part of living with Alzheimer’s or dementia means sharing your story with your loved ones. However, as the disease progresses, it’s important to have support systems in place before you even need it.

Telling your family and friends will allow you to build your support system early on and will enable you to face challenges more easily. Remember, you don’t have to tell everyone at one time. You have the ability to choose who you want to tell and how to tell them. Here are a few tips to help you share the news when you’re ready:

• Think about who you want to share your diagnosis with first: You might choose to tell those who you feel closest to or who you spend the most time with. Part of this includes thinking about who you want to be supported by as the disease progresses.
• Go slowly: Sharing your diagnosis can be emotional. You aren’t obligated to talk about everything in one sitting. This can happen over time.
• Take educational brochures with you to begin your conversation: This can be a great way to learn about the disease with those that will be supporting you.
• Let people support you but tell them how you want to be supported: If you want to be supported in certain ways, like help with doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, or cooking meals, it’s important to express this to your friends and family.

Living with an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Diagnosis

Once you receive a diagnosis, it’s important to think about a plan for your future. While the diagnosis can be overwhelming at first, eventually you will find a new normal. After all, there are plenty of people who live with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Here are a few ways you can start planning:

Get regular medical care

You might feel like you don’t have control over your disease, but you do have control over your health. It’s important to make regularly scheduled appointments with your primary care doctor or specialist like a neurologist or psychiatrist. Some adults living with dementia find changes in their sleep patterns.

If you experience these kinds of changes, there are non-drug treatments and medications available that will help improve your sleep. In addition, you might consider asking your doctor about clinical trials. Studying dementia through trials will help develop future treatments.

Plan or hire support

As your disease progresses, you might find it difficult to keep up with your day-to-day needs. You might consider hiring a caregiver to help you with housekeeping, medications, meals, and daily chores. If you need help finding a caregiver, you can contact your local Alzheimer’s Association for help with these services.

If you haven’t already, it might be helpful to make arrangements for all bills to be paid automatically. This will eliminate any chance of falling behind on your bills. Also, you might consider setting up direct deposit for any checks that you receive consistently.

Plan for your future

Before your disease progresses, it’s crucial to make a financial plan for your future, especially if you live alone. This might include anything from taking inventory of your existing legal documents to making legal plans for your finances and property.

You might consider naming another person to make decisions on your behalf when you no longer can through a power of attorney. You can also put your wishes for medical treatment in a living will. In addition, it’s important you make estate plans through a standard will or living trust.

Find Expert Memory Care Near You

At Maplewood Senior Living, the health of our residents is our number one priority. That’s why we offer regularly scheduled support groups and activities for our residents living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. To learn more about our memory care near you, or to schedule a tour of our facilities, please contact us.