Caring for the elderly is a growing concern for older Americans. According to the 2015 AARP report, “Caregivers in the US,” 43.5 million people are caring for an elderly parent, and that number is expected to increase as the massive baby boomer population ages.
Unfortunately, there is a growing gap between the number of older people in need of care and the number of caregivers available to provide that care. Even more worrying are the many older people who do not have children, are not in contact with their children, or whose children live far away. With no close family members nearby, a growing number of older people find themselves isolated and forced to take care of themselves.
If you fall into this “caregiver divide” you might be wondering what you can do to successfully age without spending a small fortune on renovating your home and hiring people to run errands. That’s what it takes to thrive as a senior when you don’t have kids to help you.
The growing gap between caregivers
According to a study by the AARP Public Policy Institute, the ratio of caregiver support in 2010 was 7 to 1. This means that for every person over 80 with high needs, there were seven potential caregivers, usually adult children. and other family members, available to help with their daily needs. By 2030, that ratio is expected to drop to 4: 1, meaning there will only be four potential caregivers for every senior in great need. By 2050, the ratio will drop to 3 to 1.
This proportion is declining because baby boomers have had fewer children, if any, than previous generations. Those who have had children often live hundreds or thousands of kilometers from them. Baby boomers also have a higher divorce rate than previous generations, resulting in more single baby boomers.
A study published in Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research found that in 2016, 22% of older people could be defined as “older orphans” living alone with little or no support system. This number does not take into account elderly parents whose children are not available to care for them due to distance or other factors.
Most older people think they won’t need help
There is also a huge disparity in the number of older people who think they need care. In a 2010 national poll sponsored by Genworth Financial, only 37% of seniors thought they would need long-term care as they got older. However, the reality was that 67% would need long-term care after age 65.
The United States is not the only country facing a caregiver crisis. In March 2018, Bloomberg reported that in Japan, where more than 27% of the population is 65 or older, one in five women in prison was an elderly person. More and more Japanese women are aging without an established support system and, as a result, commit petty crimes such as robberies to go to jail and receive the care they need.
The Bloomberg article highlights some distressing consequences of aging without family support. All of the women interviewed expressed similar feelings of isolation, loneliness and lack of purpose. Many were in desperate need of the three daily meals they now receive in prison. More so, they needed the community of friends they had developed once inside.
Risks for older orphans
Many factors can lead to isolation of the elderly. The death of a spouse is a common cause, as are poor health, poverty or low income and a fragmented family. Seniors who are forced to grow old on their own face a number of serious risks.
Increased risk of injury and damage
Seniors who experience cognitive decline are at increased risk of harm when living alone.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 21% of older people with dementia suffered harm from self-neglect or injury when living alone. In all of these cases, emergency personnel were called for assistance.
Increased risk of depression
Many studies have shown that loneliness in older people can increase rates of depression. A study, published in the Journal of Aging and Health, found that older people who lived alone had more depressive symptoms than those who lived with other people, even though they had supportive interactions with friends.
But depression is not inevitable if an older person lives alone. Another study, published in the Journal of Women & Aging, found that older people living with other people “had higher levels of depression and less functioning” compared to older people living alone. Your risk for depression depends on your personality and genetics, as well as your relationship with the people you live with. A true sense of connection is vital.
Increased risk of negative health outcomes
Not surprisingly, older people who live alone may have more health problems than older people who have a strong support system.
A study, published in Annals of Epidemiology, found that isolation and unsupported social interactions can decrease immune function and increase cardiovascular activity; social support interactions have the opposite effect. Research published in the Journal of Aging and Health found that older people who felt a sense of belonging had less negative health effects than those who felt more isolated.
A study published in Social & Science Medicine found that isolated older people had a higher nutritional risk. Another study, published in Epidemiology, found that a decrease in social ties led to a higher death rate in women and men.
The financial aspect of aging
No one really wants to think about getting old and needing help. But it is a reality that each of us must eventually face. And you can’t think of aging without thinking about the economics of it.
Long term care
If you don’t have children, you will likely have to pay someone to help meet your daily needs at some level. And whether it’s a food delivery or a home help, personal care can be very expensive.
Older people often significantly underestimate the cost of care. According to data published on SeniorCare.com, 72% of people in need of senior care have to pay these costs out of pocket. On average, this can add up to $ 25,000 over a lifetime. Some people assume Medicare will cover most, if not all, of what they need, but Medicare is estimated to only cover up to 12% of long-term care costs.
Seniors who may be dependent on children or other family members find it a little easier financially. Family caregivers often shoulder much of the financial burden of caring for loved ones by purchasing food, paying bills, or hiring outside help if their parents cannot afford it. This help is costing them dearly. NPR reports that caregivers, usually women, incur an average of $ 143,000 in lost or diminished wages due to the care of an elderly relative. When you add your lost Social Security and pension contributions, that number almost doubles.
If you do not have children or family members willing to help you, it is you and you alone to bear the financial burden of the care you will need in your old age.
Assisted Living Costs
The cost of assisted living varies widely by location. Averages range from $ 3,500 to $ 4,500 + per month as of 2017, and these costs typically increase by 1% to 2% each year. You can find out how much assisted living facilities charge in your area from Genworth Financial.
An overwhelming majority of older people would prefer to age locally, that is, in their own home. But the reality is that someday you might need assisted living, so you need to make sure you have enough reserves for that. The best way to do it?
Build up your retirement and savings
Work as long as possible to build up your retirement account, as well as your savings and cash investments, so that you have enough to pay for unforeseen costs, such as home help if you get injured or get sick.
You may want to consider continuing to work after retirement to further increase your savings account. If you don’t want to keep your current job, you can start a business after you retire or find a stress-free part-time job that will help you stay active as well.
Aging well in place, alone
If your retirement date is approaching, it’s important to start planning for the next step in your life now, while you are still healthy, independent, and strong enough to make changes.
Choose a supportive neighborhood
One of the most important decisions you can make as you age is where to live.
A study published in Aging and Mental Health found that while living alone can increase an older person’s feelings of depression, perceptions of neighborhood social quality can alleviate those feelings. In other words, how good you feel with your neighbors, and with your neighborhood in general, can make a big difference to your quality of life.
In addition, as you get older, driving will become more difficult. You will have to make more doctor visits and it will be more difficult to leave the house. This means that you need to find a close-knit neighborhood where you can easily walk to places like the grocery store and the library. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who lived in neighborhoods with high walkability reported higher activity levels than those who lived in neighborhoods where walking was more difficult.
Your ideal neighborhood should have some form of public transportation and be close to medical facilities. You should also have a great senior support system, ideally with a senior center and other recreational facilities.
Consider sharing a home or community life
If you are concerned about the costs or isolation of living alone, a shared or community living arrangement might be a good option for you. Community life for the elderly has been around for a long time, and “boutique style” communities are emerging across the country. These communities are micro-neighborhoods or villages where the elderly can live close to each other and share the responsibilities of maintaining their homes and neighborhoods.
Some communities focus on a common interest, such as living a sustainable lifestyle or practicing a shared hobby. Others are simply a mix of older adults who need the help and support of their neighbors.
Older women, in particular, are discovering the benefits of living with other older women. The AARP reports that in the United States, four million women aged 50 and over now live in a household with other unrelated women aged 50 and over. (Think of the “golden girls” for the 21st century). This represents nearly 16% of the total female population in this age group, according to the Population Reference Bureau, and those numbers continue to rise.
For more information on community living for the elderly, see “Your Quest for Home: A Guidebook to Find the Ideal Community for Your Later Years” by Marianne Kilkenny.
Make new friends
If you choose to relocate to facilitate aging in your home, make an effort to build social connections in your new community. Friends aren’t just good for your health; They will also be part of the support network you will depend on as you get older.
It can be difficult for older people to make new friends, but it helps realize that other adults are probably in the same boat – they would like to have a friend or partner to have lunch with or take a class with.
A great way to meet people is to adopt a dog. A dog makes it easy to strike up a conversation with complete strangers and will undoubtedly be a great companion for you. Just make sure you understand how much a dog actually costs so you don’t put your finances to the test.
Consider joining a church or other religious organization. Turn to Toastmasters International if you are interested in public speaking, or join a Rotary club if you want to improve your community. You can find other volunteer opportunities on sites like Create The Good and VolunteerMatch.
Meetup is another way to find people in your community who are passionate about the same things you are. Want to train for a 5K? Learn photography? Talk to other fishing enthusiasts? Meetup can help you find other people with similar interests.
Join a village
Village to Village Network is a national organization that helps older people stay in their homes by building “villages” to support them. Today there are over 200 villages across the country and more are being built every year.
The Village to Village network creates and organizes a community of senior helpers who do things like help with snow removal, cleaning, providing transportation, and helping with computer problems. Most villages also have a busy social calendar to keep members in touch and engaged with each other.
Contributions average a few hundred dollars a year. However, the services and support you can receive from a Village are invaluable, especially if you live alone. You can find your local village here. If there isn’t one in your area, you can always start one with the help and support of the larger network.
Join a time bank
Volunteering to help others is always good. But sometimes volunteers are faced with a mismatch when it comes to their own needs. For example, what if, after volunteering to help seniors in your community for a decade, you suddenly need help and no one is available or willing to help?
One solution is time bank or time-based currency. Here’s how it works: If you provide five hours of service to someone in your community, you receive five credits in your time bank. These five credits are worth five hours of helping someone else. Whether you’re shopping for another senior, cooking a meal for a bedridden neighbor, or tutoring a child after school, the credits are all equal. In addition to fostering a sense of connection and purpose, these credits can come in handy as you get older.
You can start accumulating credits in your “bank” at any time and then redeem those credits as you get older and need extra help meeting your daily needs. Find a time bank in your area at TimBanksUSA or start one in your own community.
Install an alarm
Technology is making the life of the elderly easier and safer. One example is the Alarm.com wellness service.
Wellness is a movement tracking system that monitors your activity patterns. You can tell remote caregivers things like how long you are in bed, what room you are in, and when you last opened the front door. The system also learns your habits and can alert caregivers if it detects activity (or loss of activity) that is outside of your usual routine.
It might seem a little scary at first, but the service provides an easy way for seniors to stay safe and connected. It can also alleviate some of the burden on caregivers by alleviating the need to be in an older person’s home 24/7. If an older person is still fairly healthy and can live on their own, Wellness allows a caregiver to check in remotely without having to drive.
Wellness typically costs between $ 45 and $ 60 per month, plus an upfront setup fee.
Use voice-activated technology
Voice-activated technology can make it easier for older people to live on their own while staying in touch with family and friends, without having to dial a phone or learn to use Facebook.
For example, the Ask Marvee app integrates with any Amazon Alexa device. With Ask Marvee, you can send an “I’m fine!” message to all members of your network. You can also bring the latest family news, tell someone you’d like a visit, or have someone call you.
Ask Marvee is free on the Basic plan, which gives you five family contacts and various features like social visit requests, Morning Beacon (which tells your family you’re okay), and Family News. The Premium plan costs $ 15 per month and gives you 10 contacts, all the features of the Basic plan, and a Call Me request. The family plan costs $ 20 per month; With this plan, you get 10 additional contacts as well as all Premium features.
LifePod is another system that takes virtual care to the next level. LifePod uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help older people remember daily chores and remind them of things like upcoming dates and birthdays. You can also read audiobooks, tell jokes, listen to music, and broadcast the news, all using voice commands.
Plus, LifePod collects daily activity reports and gives loved ones and caregivers an easy way to check in throughout the day. The developers are working on ways for the system to detect falls and other health-related needs. LifePod is currently in beta testing, but you can sign up to be notified when it becomes available.
If you just need help remembering to take your medicine, apps like Medisafe can help you get your next dose under control. The app can also connect with clinics so your healthcare team can monitor your compliance with your medication schedule.
Hire a Geriatric Care Manager
Geriatric care managers step in and play the role that adult children often play. A geriatric care manager is a nurse or social worker who acts as “kind of a” professional parent, “according to the National Institute on Aging.
A geriatric care manager:
- Assess your home care needs
- Make regular home visits
- Respond to emotional concerns
- Coordinate medical plans
- Provide stress relief to caregivers.
Geriatric care managers can be expensive; some charge up to $ 150 an hour. You can find a Geriatric Care Manager through the Aging Life Care Association or the US Administration on Aging Elder Care Locator.
How to stay healthy as you age
Carol Marak is in her sixties. She lives alone in Dallas and recently founded the Elder Orphan Facebook group. In an interview with the New York Times, Marak says he walks six miles a day and eats mostly vegan meals. The reason? She knows she is ultimately responsible for herself and is determined to stay healthy for as long as possible.
One of the best things you can do as you age is to maintain a consistent exercise program. The more time and effort you put into maintaining good health, the longer you will be able to lead an active and independent life.
Staying active also has direct financial benefits, as you’ll have to spend less on healthcare and home health aids and tools. So it’s a win-win situation. But what can you do to stay healthy as you age?
SilverSneakers is a free fitness program for seniors with Medicare and other health plans. Provides free access to over 14,000 gyms, recreation centers and fitness classes nationwide. Its goal is to promote active aging and help older people adopt a healthy lifestyle.
The program is great if you can’t afford the cost of a monthly gym membership. It can also help you connect with other older people who are also determined to stay healthy.
A study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that seniors who participated in a yoga class for six months saw improvements in areas such as standing, flexibility, and balance. They also found a significant improvement in their sense of well-being and energy compared to the control groups.
While yoga at home is easy to do, seniors can benefit from a class as it can be a great way to connect with others and make new friends.
Swimming is often touted as the best exercise in the world. Because it has a low impact, it is ideal for the elderly, especially those who are overweight or have arthritis. Water removes much of the stress from the bones and joints, making training an enjoyable experience.
Swimming can even improve symptoms of arthritis. Research published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that swimming can improve blood vessel function and reduce inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis.
Learn something new
It’s also important to give your brain regular workouts as you get older.
Learning something new can improve your memory, especially if it challenges you. Research cited by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) found that activities in your comfort zone (such as doing word puzzles) do not provide much cognitive improvement, but learning a skill in outside your comfort zone can actually increase your brain power even as you get older.
According to lead researcher Denise Park, “The results suggest that engagement alone is not enough. There was a lot of pressure on the three learning groups [in the study] to keep learning more and mastering more tasks and skills. Only groups facing continuous and prolonged mental challenges improved. ”
So make a commitment to learn something new every month. You can sign up for a class at your local community college, learn a foreign language, or take a tai chi class. Sign up for continuing education classes in your area or visit the library or senior center to find out what’s available near you.
Isolation of the elderly is a real problem, and it will only increase as the baby boom generation ages. If you are nearing retirement and do not have a family you can count on to meet your needs, it is essential that you start planning now while you still have the strength and capacity to contribute. changes.
“People have to understand that these decisions will be made. Getting ready now means YOU can do it! “Says Dr. Bill Thomas, named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 Americans to shape aging, in an interview on SeniorCare.com. He adds,” Not preparing is leaving others decide your fate. ”
If you are an elderly person with no children or close family, what are you doing to create a support system? What changes did you make to successfully age instead?