Friday, 15 November 2019

Elder Orphans

Do you know what an Elder Orphan or Senior Orphan is? Apparently, its a senior who does not have any immediate family or family that they have contact with  or are in close proximity to - no spouse, children,  grandchildren, parents or siblings - so if there is an emergency or crisis, there is no one to assist with care or decision making. Perhaps a nicer term I have seen used is a 'solo-ager' or 'solo-senior' but all seem to lead to a more negative than positive connotation. Being unattached, does not always mean being lonely and for some, it is a preferable choice. That being said, for those who are elderly and live alone, if they are not socially connected, there is a higher risk of mental health, cognitive and medical issues.
The earliest mention of elder orphans that I can find online, from a quick google search, is 2016. From the definition above, there have always been 'elder orphans' who we did not need to label as anything but 'single', so why label them now? I suspect there is a sudden concern now because our senior population is increasing. In the US, the prediction is that up to 20%  of current seniors are potential elder orphans. That's based on current figures; 30 years from now, it's predicted that the number could be double that. So, for those who have no next of kin, there are many reasonable questions that have arisen.  Who will make decisions for people who don't have family to help them? Who will provide unpaid care to supplement paid care or goverment-funded homecare?  Will there be enough resources and enough housing? Do we have the resources to accommodate potentially tens of thousands of people or more, who do not have a power of attorney and for whom a a life-threatening illness occurs? While the general population may not realize how much informal caregiving happens from family, those of us who work in the senior sector see it day after day.
All of these questions are concering but, in many situations, people who are in this predicament have already thought about this and have planned ahead. For those that haven't, but see their future selves when reading this article, having some foresight by planning, will provide much of the solution.
You may want to reach out to close friends you trust with either your finances, health care decisions or both, to ask if they would be your Power of Attorney should you require one in the future. If this is not possible, enquire with your bank - some trust companies may have the availability of people who can manage your finanical power of attorney. This option though, would still leave you with no one to make health care decisions for you. It is preferable to have someone take on this task who knows you or who you can specify your wishes to when you are well; if you don't do this, and you become unable to make finacial or medical decisions, the Public Guardian steps in and makes those decisions for you.
There are senior agencies in every area that you can contact in order to find out services available and the costs involved. Contact your local LHIN to enquire about their offerings and assistance. While you are well and mobile, you may want to look into housing options with care (or graduated care options) in your area so you can plan ahead. Or you may want to look into innovative options like home-sharing or co-housing which will afford you companionship and perhaps shared expenses which can help with care costs.
As long as you are able to plan ahead, do your best to stay healthy, socially connected and reach out when you need assistance, being a solo senior can be something to look forward to rather than something to fear.