Getting older is part of life. And as the joke goes, it sure beats the alternative. But what happens if you need a little extra help as you age? Or a lot of extra help?
For many older individuals, adult children are first in line to help out with tasks like paying bills, going to doctor appointments, and managing prescription medications. This arrangement can work out just fine, unless, of course, you don’t have children. Then, planning for and receiving care as you age could be a little more challenging.
In my experience, the best way to ensure that you’ll get the care you need is to do your research in advance. So, for people who don’t have adult children in their lives (and even for those that do), it’s important to consider where they may need help later on and to plan for life’s (and aging’s) what-ifs.
Many organizations can lend a helping hand where needed while allowing their clients to retain independence where they don’t need help. Senior Partners is one such company. It helps older folks preserve their independence by assisting with daily life and money matters like bill paying, appointments and financial organization.
Forbes recently addressed the issue of how to plan for care when you don’t have adult children or other close relatives, in an article on the topic by Dr. Sara Gerber.
To understand the issues faced by people aging without children, Dr. Gerber took a look at two women who are receiving help from their children. In this way, Gerber sought to illustrate the challenges that these aging women are experiencing, and thus identify where there may be holes to be filled by professionals if family members weren’t available.
I want to recap one of these two stories, as I think it provides invaluable insight into challenges associated with the aging process, and how to plan for them.
Meet Virginia, the 93-year-old mother of Mary, who is 63. Virginia still lives in the two-story home where she raised Mary. When Virginia was in her late 80s, Mary tried to persuade her to sell the home and move into a retirement community, but Virginia refused. So now, Mary visits her mother as often as her job will allow, but, since she lives in another town, her trips are fewer than once a month.
“About five years ago,” says Gerber, “Mary was able to convince her mother to pay for some modifications to her home. Mary and Virginia interviewed contractors together, ultimately hiring a local construction company to enlarge a bathroom, install grab bars, erect a ramp from the front door to the street level walkway, and reinforce a railing on the interior stairs.”
Although she is still sharp mentally, Virginia is aware that she doesn’t do as good a job managing her money as she once did. Mary helps her remotely, using Skype, once a month. They also use Skype to check in regularly, so Mary can see her mother’s face and watch her take her medications.
Virginia has stayed active in her church and her bridge club, so members of these groups pay frequent visits and bring her food she can reheat and eat over several days. Mary also arranged for someone to come by three times a week to do some light housekeeping around Virginia’s house.
While not perfect because of the physical distance, Mary is doing a good job of caring for her mother so she can stay in her lifelong home. Without her daughter’s help, it is likely that Virginia would need to move into an assisted living or other care-related facility to receive the help she needs with daily living.
Dr. Gerber goes on to posit that, “Similar stories are playing out everywhere today with parents who are aging in their homes and in retirement communities with limited services. Even in residential care communities, substantial involvement by adult children is evident.”
“Adult children play a significant role,” she says, “in the lives of their aging parents. In fact, adult children are sometimes the only source of emotional support available to the aging parent, especially one who has isolated himself or herself from community contacts or has a life-limiting disease.”
According to Dr. Gerber, by the year 2040, one in five of Americans will be “solo agers,” meaning they have no adult children to provide emotional, physical, and logistical support. My advice to these folks, as well as to the people who do have children, is to plan in advance. Even if you never need the help (and you may not), it’s always better to err on the side of caution. And if you do need it, you know that you’ll be receiving the care you need by your own choosing.