Modern families differ greatly from those of our parents – children, siblings and parents often live far apart, and many seniors find themselves virtually orphaned, particularly after the death of a spouse. Isolation, mental illness, poor health and even injury are common among these “orphaned” seniors.
It’s heartbreaking to think about, but families have changed much over the last century, altering the way the family structure is built. We were once an agriculturally based people where families stayed together, taking care of older family members and new babies alike. Farming eventually gave way to industrialized labor and families spread across many miles looking for meaningful employment. Advances in medical technology and health care are also keeping us alive longer, increasing the span of time that a senior may need care.
Orphaned seniors may face difficulty when their spouse dies and leaves them with more than they can manage alone, and perhaps only a vague understanding of personal finances. If the surviving spouse is also disabled, it can be impossible for the “orphan” to make sense of what is left behind. Single seniors may seem better prepared and less likely to have a sudden need for care, but health conditions and diseases can leave even independent seniors in need of assistance with no place to look for support.
The feeling of helplessness and isolation experienced by orphaned seniors can lead to depression, anxiety, and fear—which could have a serious impact on their health. These orphans tend to “fall through the gap” and go without care, unable to help themselves by the time they realize they are in trouble. They may exhibit signs of resentment that can make it hard to offer them help. These are all symptoms of a senior who is in need of care and who is insecure about how to manage if the need increases.
As seniors find themselves further and further away from supportive family, steps can be taken to make sure that you or a loved one doesn’t fall through the gaps.
Plan Your Future
Even if you have nearby children who have offered to help you, there is no guarantee that they will always be able to do so. Looking to the future and planning for a time when you may need assistance can be the most helpful step in ensuring that you won’t be “orphaned”. This means touring senior living communities long before you have need of one. Research their amenities, financial arrangements, and eligibility requirements. Alternatively, you can engage a Senior Living Advisor to help you determine what level of care you need now and what you might need in the future. Often their services are free and they are there to guide you through the process of planning your senior lifestyle.
If your children are far away but want to help, talk with them about your preferences and plans for your future, and what you would like to have happen if you need assistance. Understanding what you want will make it easier for them to help you when the time comes and gives you peace of mind that your wishes will be fulfilled. If you do not have children or you are concerned about how care will be managed, you can create a legal document that explains your hopes and intentions should you be become incapacitated. This will remove stress and worry from you and your loved ones if an emergency should arise.
One of the best ways to learn and prepare for the future is to reach out to the community around you. Volunteering to assist those who are already in need can be a great way to help others while you network and build a support structure for your own future. There are several senior volunteer organizations that will allow you to help seniors who have gaps in care. You can make vital connections that will support you as you age and when you are in need. Engaging with the senior community will also help you gain a clear perspective, focus your efforts and manage your own care realistically.
Talk about your plans or fears with friends, doctors, and loved ones. If you are already an “orphaned” senior, and you are facing gaps in care that make life difficult or threaten your future well-being, there are programs and ways to help you now. The sooner you speak up, the better your chances to reverse your isolation and improve your situation.
Finally, if a parent, friend, or loved one seems like an “orphan”, don’t try to solve all their problems yourself. Even large families who care for senior members in the home find it difficult to meet all the needs of someone who requires assistance. Help your senior friend find resources and connect them to the services and people who can help them manage their own care. Your support and friendship are more important and more effective when you don’t try to supply care for your loved one without aid.
We need to help our orphaned seniors, and often the best way we can do that is to learn how to avoid becoming one ourselves. Reach out to a senior in need and enable them, and don’t forget to plan for your own future!