Modern families have changed a great deal from the traditional families of the past – children, siblings and parents are often spread across the country or globe, and many seniors have been virtually “orphaned”, particularly those who have lost a spouse. Isolation, poor health, mental illness, and even injury can be more common among these orphaned seniors.
It may be heartbreaking to consider, but families have changed irrevocably over the last century, changing the way families are structured. When society was comprised primarily agriculturally based families, generations stayed together, with younger family members taking care of senior family members and new born children. As farming gave way to industrialized labor, families began to spread over many miles in the search for meaningful work. Advances in medical technology and health care are allowing us to live longer, healthier lives, increasing the duration of time during which a senior may require care.
Orphaned seniors face additional difficulties when a spouse dies and leaves them with more than they can manage independently. Sometimes the spouse left behind had only a vague understanding of the family finances. When the surviving spouse is also suffering from handicap or mental illness, it can be impossible for the “orphan” to organize what is left. Single seniors often seem better positioned and less likely to need care suddenly, but health conditions and diseases can require even independent seniors without necessary assistance and with no place to seek support.
Helplessness and isolation are commonly experienced by orphaned seniors and can lead to depression, anxiety, and fear— conditions which can have serious effects on their health. Orphaned seniors tend to “fall through the gap”, failing to receive care and unable to help themselves once they have realized they need assistance. They may express signs of resentment and even become difficult to help. These signs are symptoms of a senior in need of care who is frightened and insecure about how they will manage as their need for assistance progresses.
Seniors may find themselves further and further away from a supportive family, but there are ways to make sure that you or a loved one won’t fall into the gap.
Even if your children live nearby and have offered to help, there is no way to be sure that they can always do so. The most helpful step to make sure you won’t be “orphaned” is to look to the future and plan for a time when you may require assistance. Tour senior living communities well before you might need such accommodations. Research amenities and financial arrangements, and look into eligibility requirements. You can also engage a Senior Living Advisor to determine what type of care you need currently and what needs you might have in the future. Services are often free and helpful throughout the process of planning a senior lifestyle.
If your do not live nearby but want to help, talk to them about any preferences you have or plans you have made for your future, and what you expect to happen when you need assistance. Communicate what you want and it will be easier for family to help when the time comes, providing you peace of mind that your needs and desires will be met. If there are no children or you are worried about how care will be managed, you can work with a lawyer to produce a legal document that explains your intentions should you be become incapacitated, removing stress from you and your loved ones in the event of an emergency.
Build a Network
The best way to prepare for the future is to create a network of support in the surrounding community. Volunteering to help those who are currently in need is a great way to help others while building a network of support for your own future. There are multiple senior volunteer organizations eager for your efforts to serve seniors who have gaps in care. You can learn and make vital connections that will support you as you age and potentially need assistance. Experience with senior communities will also help provide a clear perspective that will allow you to focus your efforts and manage your own care realistically.
Discuss your plans or fears with friends, doctors, and loved ones. If you are already a senior orphan and facing gaps in, there are programs that can improve your life and your future well-being right now. The sooner you reach out for support, the more likely it is that you will be able to reverse your isolation and alter your situation.
If a parent, friend, or loved one appears to be an “orphan”, don’t assume that you can solve all their problems by yourself. Even large families who are able to care for senior members at home have trouble meeting all the needs of a loved one who requires assistance. Help your senior friend learn about resources and connect to the services and people who can guide them in managing their own care. Your love and friendship are the most important and effective means of support you can share with a loved one in need of assistance.
We must help our orphaned seniors, and often the most effective way to do that is to learn how to avoid a similar situation ourselves. Reach out to a senior in need and help them, but don’t forget to make plans for your own future!