In my years as a hospital social worker, some of the most heartbreaking cases involved people who did not have families. It was especially difficult if demenita and relocation was involved. The memory of some will stay with me forever. Those without families are by necessity, fiercely independent and understandably often have trouble accepting and organizing help.
So, it is with great interest that I read articles about 'Elder Orphans' of the future. This is a term now used for people without children in their later years. It is expected that anywhere from 20 - 25% of our current boomers will be in this category when they reach old age. Family seem to provide a great deal of 'caregiving' in studies that are done - I read one that said in the USA its is approximated that 70% of caregiving is done by families currently. With less people having children and less children per family, the issue of caregiving is sure to impact the seniors of the future in a big way.
That being said, all social workers have encountered families that are either unable, unwilling or incapable of helping with caregiving and decision making so having children is not a guarantee that you will not encounter issues in the future.
So, I wonder - how can we ensure that we are not among the group that end up relying on strangers to make decisions for us and arrange our care? I don't really know if there is a clear answer yet. There is nothing like human contact and concern from someone who knows and loves you. I suppose planning ahead is the key to reducing the chances of having to rely on 'the government' or strangers for care. Creativity and innovation in terms of sharing & providing care might become a necessity. My advice to everyone: plan for old age whether or not you have children. This would apply to finances as well as care. Are there people you trust that you would give your Powers of Attorney to? Consider Long Term Care Insurance if you are concerned that you won't be able to afford care in your old age. As you get older but are still healthy, look into non-traditional seniors housing - in the next 20 years I am certain that we will see a rise in co-housing structures, innovative retirement care and different care at home models. It's never a good idea to wait for a crisis. The healthier you are when you make decisions, the more likely you will have choice and can guide your own destiny.