Elder Orphans are those individuals who are widowed or not married, live alone and have no family (or none they can count on.) They are going through the last years of their lives on their own. Everything can be just fine until something like declining health happens and there is no one to offer assistance.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 14 million seniors (nearly a third of all seniors) live alone.  Generally, they don’t have children or anyone to care for them. The problem is exacerbated when these senior’s friends are all about the same age and in similar situations.

Growing old is inevitable, but not everyone has the same experience of aging. Some seniors have a spouse, children, relatives, or friends who can provide them with care, companionship, and assistance. Others, however, may find themselves ageing alone, without a family or a support system on which to rely.  This can pose many challenges and risks for such individuals’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

The number of such individuals is expected to increase as more baby boomers retire and live longer. Elder orphans face many issues that seniors with family support may not have to worry about.  There is no obvious resolution, like creating an instant family, so prospective elder orphans need to plan accordingly to head off of some possible challenges.  Here are some examples:

Loneliness and social isolation

Some seniors may lack meaningful social interactions and connections, which can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Loneliness can also negatively affect their cognitive function, immune system, and cardiovascular health. To prevent or reduce loneliness, seniors should try to stay active and engaged in their community, join clubs or groups that share their interests, volunteer for a cause they care about, or adopt a pet for companionship.

Financial insecurity

There are other seniors who may have limited income and savings, which can make it hard for them to afford their living expenses, health care, and long-term care. They may also be more vulnerable to financial scams and frauds, especially if they are cognitively impaired or isolated. To protect their financial security, seniors should create a budget, plan for their retirement, seek professional advice, and be wary of suspicious offers or requests.

Health care and long-term care

Seniors who have no family support may have difficulty accessing and managing their health care and long-term care needs. They may not have anyone to accompany them to doctor’s appointments, help them with medications, or advocate for them in case of a medical emergency. They may also not have anyone to assist them with daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, cooking, or cleaning, if they become frail or disabled. To prepare for their health care and long-term care, seniors should have a primary care provider, a health care proxy, a living will, and long-term care insurance. They should also explore their options for home care, assisted living, or nursing home care, depending on their needs and preferences.

Legal and estate planning

Sometimes seniors may not have anyone to handle their legal and estate matters, such as their will, power of attorney, trust, or funeral arrangements. They may also not have anyone to inherit their assets or belongings, or to carry out their wishes after they pass away. To ensure their legal and estate planning, seniors should Consider naming a fiduciary to handle finances in an estate plan, which an experienced estate planning attorney should prepare.  The plan should include a will, power of attorney, a trustee, and designate beneficiaries.  It is also a good idea to make funeral plans in advance.

Even the most independent seniors must give up the idea of being 100 percent well until you die. Most seniors experience one or more health challenges in the later years and need more assistance than they might have imagined.

If you are aging alone, it is best to be realistic and identify younger adults who will be able to help you — and give them the legal tools to do so.  If you never need help, all the better, but if you do, you will be glad to have their help.

Aging alone can be challenging, but not impossible. Seniors who are single and have no family support need to consider these issues and take proactive steps to address them. By doing so, they can improve their quality of life, maintain their independence, and enjoy their golden years.