Modern families have changes dramatically in the last several decades. Children, siblings and parents have spread out beyond the original homestead, and many seniors are left virtually orphaned, especially following the death of a spouse. Mental illness, isolation, health problems and even injury are seen frequently in these “orphaned” seniors.
While it may be heartbreaking to consider, families have changed quite a bit over the last century, changing how the family structure is developed. Originally we were an agricultural society in which families stayed together, caring for senior family members and young children alike. Eventually farming yielded to industrialized labor and families began to spread further from home looking for meaningful employment. Advances in medical technology and wellness care are also extending out lives, increasing the duration of time that seniors may require care.
Orphaned seniors may also have trouble when a spouse dies and leaves them with more than they can manage by themselves, and perhaps very little understanding of personal finances. When the surviving spouse is disabled as well, there can be little hope for the “orphan” to make sense of what they have left to manage. It may seem like single seniors would be better prepared and less likely to need assistance suddenly, but diseases and health conditions can render even independent seniors helpless with no way to find support.
The sense of helplessness and isolation many orphaned seniors experience can lead to depression, fear, and anxiety, which may have a negative impact on their health. Orphaned seniors have a tendency to “fall through the gap”, trying to survive without necessary care, and often unable take effective action by the time that it’s obvious they are in trouble. Many seniors become resentful and act out their insecurities, making it difficult to help them. This is merely a symptom of a senior in need of care who is anxious about how they will manage if their needs increase.
As seniors find themselves separated from supportive family, there are steps you can take to keep your loved one from falling through the gaps.
Make a Plan for Your Future
Even if your live close by and have promised to help you, there is no guarantee that their lives will always allow them to do so. Looking ahead and planning for when you may require assistance can be the best way to be certain that you won’t be and “orphan”. Make a plan to tour senior living communities well before you have might need care. Learn as much as you can about amenities, eligibility arrangements, and financial requirements. You can also engage a Senior Living Advisor who can help you determine what level of care you require currently and what needs you might have in the future. In most cases these services are free and can guide you through the process of planning a senior lifestyle.
If your children do not live near you but have offered to help, discuss with them your preferences and plans for your future, and what your wishes are when you need assistance. Communicating your preferences will make it easier for family and loved ones to provide the help you need when the time comes. You also establish your own peace of mind, knowing that your wishes will be honored. If have no children or you are anxious about how the management of your care, you can craft a legal document explaining your desires and intentions if you are ever incapacitated, removing stress and worry from you and your family in an emergency.
The best way to prepare for your future is to volunteer in the community surrounding you. Volunteer to assist those who already in need of assistance already. Help others while you build a network of support you can draw on in your own future. There are myriad senior volunteer programs that encourage you to help seniors who experience gaps in care. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to make connections that will support you as you age or if you require care. Engage with the senior community and you will also be able to gain a clear perspective to focus your efforts and manage your own needs practically.
Involve friends, doctors, and loved ones in your plans, and talk to them about your hopes. If you have already been “orphaned” and you are experiencing gaps in care or anxiety about your future well-being, there are many now. Speaking up as soon as possible increases your chances of improving your situation.
Do you know a parent, friend, or loved one who seems like an “orphan”? Don’t assume that you can solve all their problems by yourself. Even large families who are able to provide care for senior members at home have trouble meeting all the needs of someone in need assistance. The best way to help your senior friend is to guide them to resources and connect them to people who can help them take control of their own care. Your friendship and support are more important and more useful when you don’t try to be the solution to every problem.
Helping our orphaned seniors also means learning how to avoid becoming an orphaned senior ourselves. Reach out to a senior to keep them “falling into the gaps” and enable them, and don’t forget to make plans for your own future!