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How to Prepare to Age Alone

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

How to Prepare to Age Alone

According to a 2012 study in The Gerontologist, about one-third of 45- to 63-year-olds are single, most of who never married or are divorced. That's a whopping 50 percent increase since 1980, the study found. What's more, about 15 percent of 40- to 44-year-old women had no children in 2012 -- up from about 10 percent in 1980, U.S. Census data shows.

So what do you do when you step back from your work, or just look at your future and realize there is no one to take care of me when I get older? It can be a scary question to face, and as the statistics show, there are many more people today that are in this situation.

In research presented this year at The American Geriatric Society's annual meeting, found that nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 65 are or may become physically or socially isolated and lack someone like a family member to care for them. The term elder orphans is being used to describe this new group of the elderly.

The consequences are profound, older adults who consider themselves lonely are more likely to have trouble completing daily tasks, experience cognitive decline, develop coronary heart disease and even die. Those who are socially isolated are also at risk for medical complications, mental illness, mobility issues and health care access problems.

But growing older without kids or a partner doesn't mean you're doomed -- just as aging with kids and a partner doesn't mean all's clear. You never know what will happen, life is a game of roulette, you could be married and have seven children, and you could still wind up alone.  Keep in mind that 69 percent of Americans will need long-term care, even though only 37 percent think they will, according to SeniorCare.com.

Here are some ways to help yourself to be prepared for the chance that you could become an elderly orphan.

1. Speak up.

Talk about your choices with your friends and family members, it is a discussion that needs to be had so stop waiting for it to go away, or magically resolve itself. It will not, you will get older and eventually you might be alone and talking about what could happen and having a plan in place is important.

2. Act early.

You need to look inside yourself and know yourself and your family history to determine when you should start planning. Someone with a family history of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s’, heart disease, and other serious conditions should start planning much earlier than someone whose family genes are strong.

No matter what type of family tree you have, it is never too early to start planning for long-term care, because just like car insurance, you may never need it, but will be thankful if you do! You can create a long-term care plan by socking away money for medical emergencies, or invest in a long-term care insurance policy that will give you peace of mind that you will be financially taken care of later in life.

3. Make new friends and keep the old.

Your social connections can help with practical health care needs, like driving you to the doctor when you're unable. But they also do something powerful: keep you alive, research suggests. In a 2012 study of over 2,100 adults age 50 and older, researchers found that the loneliest older adults were nearly twice as likely to die within six years than the least lonely -- regardless of their health behaviors or social status.

Connections can also help ward off depression, which affects nearly 20 percent of the 65-and-older population, according the National Alliance on Mental Illness .  The more social activities you have, the more friends, the more things you can do to keep your body and mind active -- that's the best protection you have against mental illness."

4. Appoint a proxy.

Find that person who you trust most in the world and ask them to be the keeper of your personal information in case of an emergency. They should have your Social Security number, where you keep your insurance card, which medications you take, everything you would need in the event of an emergency. Also, revisit the information with that person every so often to update any new medications or other pertinent information.

Before you start losing any cognitive capacities, consider designating that person as your durable power of attorney for health care, or the person who makes health care decisions for you when you're no longer able.

If no one comes to mind, hire an attorney who specializes in elder care law by asking around for recommendations or searching online for highly rated professionals. Unlike your friends, they have a license to defend and are well-versed in elder care issues.

5. Live well.

The two biggest things you can do to stay healthy as you age is exercise and eat well. Some of the foods that we eat are really, really bad for the body and that's one of the major causes of chronic conditions -- and not exercising.

Keeping your brain sharp is also critical if you want to be able to make informed decisions about your health care. Participate in activities that challenge you -- math problems if numbers trip you up, or crossword puzzles if words aren't your forte. "The old adage, 'If you don't use it, you lose it,' is 100 percent correct.

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