Medicare/Medical 2015
by – Sheri de Grom

What are the chances you’ll become an elder orphan? Are you 65 or older, without children and alone?

No one knows exactly how many individuals fall into this newly-created medical care category. The theory is that 25% of all Americans over age 65 are at risk of becoming elder orphans or should already be classified as such.

This vulnerable population already exists, but they have no voice or support system. Elder orphans must have advocates. However, their needs must be defined first.

We do know elder orphans are aging alone, with no known family member or designated surrogate to act on their behalf. It’s imperative we determine which community, social services, emergency responses and educational resources can help them.

This population is growing as society ages and life expectancy increases.

Geriatrics Healthcare Professionals Logo

Geriatrics Healthcare Professionals Logo

The University of Michigan conducted an extensive survey and presented their findings at The American Geriatrics Society’s 2015 Annual Scientific Meeting, May 15-17, 2015. Their conclusion is that without intervention, elder orphans are at the greatest risk of a wide range of negative outcomes that include functional decline, mental health issues and premature death.

This is the population the study fears will utilize the most expensive healthcare resources because they don’t have the ability to access community resources while they’re well but alone.

The 2012 U.S. Census data supports the findings of the increasing number of elder orphans. About 1/3 of all Americans aged 45 to 63 were single, a 50% increase from 1980; nearly 19% of women aged 40 to 44 have no children, as compared to 10% in 1980.

Never leave your animals behind on moving day. Picture - Google

Never leave your animals behind on moving day. Picture – Google

Baby boomers, more than any other generation, have been mobile without much of a backward look. I’ve moved more often than most as part of my career and loved knowing another adventure was always around the corner.

Google - The surviving spouse sees the other through their illness and beyond.

Google – The surviving spouse sees the other through their illness and beyond.

The reality for Tom and me is that someday (probably sooner than we’d like) one of us will be an elder orphan. It doesn’t matter how much pre planning I’ve done, how many extraordinary providers of care I have in place—we’re it. We are a family of two.

Thankfully, we’ve been graced with the most amazing friends and I know they are only a phone call away. They have been there for us time and time again.

How about you, what are your thoughts about this new population of elder orphans? Have you put plans in place to protect your wishes? Is it possible that you could become an elder orphan?

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. bjsscribbles says:

    It is happening here as well in Australia, I am an orphan now living where I am. But I don’t mind I have a good support circle around me and helpful neighbours..I know it is not a topic we think much about but it is a reality. I am one of the baby boomers of Australia.

    • BJ – Thanks for reading with me and leaving a comment. I so agree with you in that a support circle and good neighbors can make all the difference in the world. Now that Tom is unable to drive or do any of the other activities we were accustomed to, it has really made me rethink where we live [I really don’t want to move] and what are the resources we have available locally. For those of us that made our way out in the world as baby boomers and became successful, well no one had really traveled the road we are on now and we are making our own map once again.
      Thanks for sharing here. I hope to revisit the topic of elder orphans once a year or so – perhaps we can all check in to learn what we’ve learned in the interim that might help each other. Sheri

      • bjsscribbles says:

        I did also yesterday with baby boomers and depression. I thought long and hard yesterday about your topic it had been crossing my mind lately. With afterlife and getting up there, also with a friend turning 70. There is a whole new world about us a world we are unaccustomed too. When I leave this world my children will be orphans, they are very courageous as they are not having children. But the thing is for me there is a whole generations now leaving this world.I received news yesterday one of the last of my parents generation has not got long to live only days.

        • Yes, I understand. Everyone from my parents generation is gone and has been for some time. I will turn 70 next year. I don’t feel 70 but then how is 70 supposed to feel. I often wonder, how did I become 70 as it seems I only retired yesterday. My career was everything to me until I met Tom and then I still managed to work at the same pace.
          I was out gardening the other evening and my next door neighbor is also often out in the evening. He’s lived next door less than a year and at 54 has never married and often talks of how he feels as if he’s an island. A couple nights ago he expressed his fear of getting sick and not having anyone to let know where he was or even if he needed a ride. We talked a bit and I attempted to reassure him that I would try to always be available [on a somewhat limited basis of course]. He knows Tom is ill and requires much of my time. My neighbor became an orphan almost immediately. His mother died in 2013 and then Jan 2nd of last year his father died and 4 days later his sister died and suddenly he was alone for the first time in his life. His sister had never married and the only relative he has alive is an uncle and he has terminal cancer.
          It seems all of us have places in our lives where we might want to be more secure while maintaining our independence.
          Thanks for your comments. You give me food for thought.

  2. Very informative post, Sheri…hadn’t thought about this aspect of aging for many. Thank you for raising the “awareness” flag!!

  3. Aquileana says:

    Thanks so much for raising awareness on this issue… It is interesting to consider that elder people are the legacy of past times and being that said they should be respected and treated in the best possible ways… As I read your words, I thought of how elderly are treated in other cultures, being considered reservoir of knowledge… Things seem to change in countries of the Developed World… It seems that nowadays profits and interests prevail over traditional values!.
    All my best wishes to you. Aquileana ⭐

    • Aquileana – You are so right about profits and self interests prevailing over traditional values wherein we looked to our elders for knowledge, guidance, answering of morality issues and lets not forget their wonderful storytelling abilities.

      Far too often, our elders are swept aside to be warehoused today, and they have no one they trust to serve as their medical advocate or to help with administrative affairs as they move into the end of life stages and there’s noone to call.

  4. A thoughtful post, and an issue we all need to think about. It segues well with your medical care theme — more than once, friends’ parents have come out to “visit,” but arrive practically at death’s door because they have been trying to advocate for themselves in their health care. Hopefully the introduction of hospitalists will help with this issue, but often I see older people, even retired doctors, struggling to get the care they need, and doing better when someone younger steps in to help.

    Your network of friends is key!

    • I couldn’t agree more about an individual’s network of friends being the key to the quality of one’s life. Obviously we enjoy their companionship now but as the years slip by, those of us that are alone must think about the realities facing us. It seems that in just the time since I posted this blog, I’ve come across numerous news articles, informational research and multiple conversations with others in the healthcare arena on this very topic.

      Our problem with hospitalists is that when the medical center was built in the town where we live, it hired all the top doctors to be hospitalist [or so it seemed when I was searching for the doctors Tom and I needed for our specialist including an internist]. Thus, you’d have excellent care in the hospital but the doctor couldn’t help you once you left and there was no one to refer you to for follow-up. That’s what sent us to Little Rock for all our medical care.

      Medical care in Little Rock manufactured another problem. When I was in tip top shape, I didn’t have a problem doing all the driving but, unfortunately such is not the case now and I’m starting to think about making the step of moving closer to our health care. Some weeks Tom has appointments 3 days and I might have appointments on 1 or 2. I’ve managed to cut back on my appointments but Tom is in the never ending circle after going through a year of misdiagnosis.

  5. Jeanette Gomez | iSeniorSolutions says:

    Reblogged this on iSeniorSolutions.com.

  6. Angie Mc says:

    Sheri, you are the first person I’ve read or heard use this term. Thank you for giving the phenomena a name. I recall volunteering for hospice in a small town and was shocked to see how many elderly had no family or friends at all. What started out as my young children and I visiting one dying man at our local nursing home turned into us being family to many patients without any. It truly was a privilege and I pray that all whom I love, if they find themselves in an orphaned position, will also find love from those nearby. Great post as always.

    • Hello, Angie – It’s nice to see you here. What a wonderful experience you provided your children by visiting the nursing home. I believe too many children are sheltered from the experience of ageing and when the process begins with someone they love or even themselves, they haven’t a clue of how to cope.
      I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘elder orphan’ either until I stumbled upon a research study completed at a medical school. The statistics, while heartbreaking were also fascinating. We know that nursing homes are not nice places to spend the final days of your life, as a general rule. Without family or loved ones at your side, what could be worse?

      • Angie Mc says:

        One of my takeaways from volunteering with hospice was to work hard to build relationships for later in life. Yet I found a great consolation that many who had no one actually did connect in meaningful ways with volunteers and healthcare professionals when in their time of need. It may not be ideal but it is much better than those who die alone, having never connected. Can you tell that I worked with the homeless population via sheltering services, too? Also, not only are children being sheltered from the realities of death and dying, but I also look at how our culture age segregates. We are a very peer oriented society which has its perks. Yet there is much to be gained from generational connections. Many elderly have been so peer focused that they didn’t firmly establish relationships with younger generations, generations that are in the best position to help them in their later years.

        • You’ve made excellent points all the way around. One of the most satisfying relationships I’ve had after retirement has been in mentoring both adolescents preparing for their SAT exams as well as students entering college.
          Tom’s care has become more demanding and I’m not mentoring anyone at the present time but if things slow down a little with appointments and all, I may start up again.

  7. This is so very real it’s scary as I’m single and in my 40s with no children. It’s something that weighs on my mind as I get older. Great post Sheri.

    • Thank you. I well understand. Before I met Tom, I gave my life to my career and then after I met Tom, my life revolved around him and my work. I’m convinced the fear of being alone is something that haunts many of us – children or not. I like to think I can be self-sufficient on my own [if forced into that situation – only I wouldn’t like it] but, I’m not sure how it would be if I had a catastrophic end of life illness and I was all alone.

  8. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  9. inesephoto says:

    Sheri, this is something I am thinking about often as my family lives thousands of miles away. In my city, we have a so-called “befriending service”. Any volunteer can spend 2-3 hours of their time a week to go for a walk, cinema, or any other activity with those who are lonely, socially shy, or experience some mental health difficulties. People have to stick together, no matter is it a friend, a hobby pal, or a stranger who has the same problem. People can only survive together.
    Thank you for bringing up this problem.

    • Inese – You are so right in your comment. It’s only when people stick together that we have a chance of surviving. Here in the states we hear an advertisement on TV, over and over, for a device called Life Alert. I’ll agree it almost a necessity for anyone living alone who fears they will fall and cannot get up. We have one for Tom by another company. Say if I’m outside gardening and he needs me immediately, the device will set off an alarm I wear on my belt or he can push one of 2 other buttons. One will call for an ambulance and the other the police. It also gives him immediate 2 way communication with whoever he calls.
      The population of the world is ageing and all of us must do our part to stay connected. I’m happy to hear your country has the “befriend service.” I like that idea a lot. I’d never thought about how an elderly person might love to go to the movies or a concert and I would also, but if I go, I have to go alone or with friends as Tom simply can’t make it no matter how hard he tries. The 2 or 3 hours is about the right amount of time for me as by then, I’m ready to get back home and see how Tom is doing.
      Thanks for giving me the idea, I believe it’s a really good one.

      • inesephoto says:

        Sheri – I believe that some older people haven’t been for a show for a decade or more, because their friends or spouse are gone. Isn’t it great to make a call and book a companion 🙂 No everyone can commit to a lasting friendship, but to see a show together and discuss it afterwards is a simple thing that can make a difference, nevertheless.
        Knowing you, I am sure you will do something with this idea 🙂

  10. ksbeth says:

    this is a real challenge for many people and i think people deal with it in myriad ways. in my own situation, i have 3 daughters and 6 grands, and i’ve laid it all out very carefully and thoughtfully, trying to make things as easy and painless for everyone left behind. after my own horrendous experience with my mother and her downward spiral and trying to piece together what had to be done, including a lot of forensic accounting and unfinished business, i’ve made sure that my own children will not have to go through the same thing. great post and food for thought that is hard to swallow at times.

  11. Dear Sheri,

    What insight you have plunked before us! Makes one’s head swim, stomach churn, and heart faint. I won’t add anything further here. Just want to thank you for your meticulous reporting on topics of importance for our ages and situations. God bless!

    • Jeanne – How nice to see you here and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I totally agree with the head swimming, stomach churning and the fainting heart. Ever since I’ve been the one on first base, I’ve made all the long range plans along with the day-to-day plans. My biggest fear has always been that Tom would somehow slide out from under the safety guards I’ve built in for him and then he would certainly be homeless. If something happens to me first, he never needs to be in danger — I must trust in God.
      I know you are keeping up with the upcoming election as I see your comments on Facebook from time to time. I’m not on Facebook much but when I see you in the news feed, I always stop to see what’s going on in your world. Blessings my friend.

  12. Elaine says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I am one of the fortunate ones that does have children and grandchildren, but we truly never know for sure what life will bring. Planning is always a good thing.

  13. This is something I do fear Sheri – I don’t have children, am an only child and have little close family so it could well happen to me or my partner. Given the growing elderly population and cuts to public services, I’ve seen first hand with my mother when she was terminally ill how difficult it is to get appropriate care – for my mother when she was still at home, care amounted to a half hour visit twice a day and a meals on wheels delivery – if she hadn’t had me and her brother this would have been completely inadequate – well, it was inadequate even with family to help.

    • Andrea – I completely understand. There never seems to be enough services to go around when we are dealing with a catastrophic illness. My father passed away from cancer as well but he was a real warrior to the end. I only hope I can fight with the same dignity. I was able to pay for several services for Dad and this allowed him to keep much of his independence but I have no way of understanding exactly what I have to do to set this up for me. It is scary indeed. I do know it’s vital to have our legal documents in order and I’ve reviewed them twice a year but when I turned 65, it became a yearly review.
      I’m highly concerned about this newly identified medical population and it strikes close to my own heart. Thank you for dropping in, Andrea.

      • So many people do not even know of these documents.. this is the kind of information that often doesn’t even get talked about. I keep trying to remember to have my living will done even if my family knows my wishes, here is another reminder.

        • Yes, even if your family knows your wishes, the medical organization does not have to follow their instructions. Matter of fact, often a patient is kept alive because the hospital, etc. is afraid they might have a legal charge brought against them at a later date. I’ve asked that each of my doctors as well as the 2 hospitals I use keep a copy of my living will in my file.
          I’d never really thought about how important a general power of attorney was until I needed to change our cell phone service provider. Tom had set everything up with the previous provider but we were unhappy with them and had decided to change. I’d said I’d take care of making the change. Because Tom had signed the first contract I couldn’t cancel it without him present. I was finally able to get a completed general power of attorney but the entire mess could have been avoided with that one piece of paper.

  14. Hubert writes says:

    Hi Sheri thank you for this post . I suppose the problem lies in that people value what they value (things, and stuff ) and our world seems to have lost its MIND among other things of importance , like the respect, love and care for the aging and the weak and infirm among us. What we value is a choice in this world, and those of us who don’t attract or who have any appeal to others for whatever reason/ reasons need a miracle of grace, Gods grace. To me the saddest thought is the ones who gave their all are the ones the most alone.

    Jesus said “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Loneliness and infirmity are as close to hell as anything on earth.


    • Hubert – Thank you so much for reading with me and taking the time to comment. I agree with you about material possessions taking over the lives of many. Tom and I have been blessed with some great friends and for that I will always be grateful.

      Tom was a single father with complete custody of his children, ages 4 and 8 when I met him. He was also a career military officer but I’d never met a man that was more organized and made sure his children were cared for in every way. If he did anything wrong, it was that he loved them too much and didn’t say no often enough.

      Tom ensured his military assignments were such that he stayed in one place and that he more often than not worked 8 – 5 so that he could provide the girls a stable home life. They were 12 and 16 when we married and we’d dated for several years.

      Everything was wonderful until Tom became ill and then they really didn’t want much to do with being around. Once their college educations were paid for, we never heard from them unless they called asking for money. Since I’ve cut the money off at ages 35 and 40 respectively, we no longer hear from them. But, I cannot support us and them plus their families.

      I had never asked for their help with their father until my own father was dying and he was asking for me. Neither of the girls would come to stay with Tom while he was in the hospital as he had just had surgery. I couldn’t be in 2 states at 1 time. Needless to say, it was a crushing blow to Tom and devastating for me. I’ve pretty much cut my ties with them and Tom hurts beyond belief.

      At that time, I changed all of our legal documents. I knew I didn’t want either one of them having any say about our health care or anything else as we moved into our elder years.

      I read in one of your blogs that you are falling a lot [or at least I think that’s what I read]. I also fall a lot and it becomes more and more dangerous as I grow older. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s scary each time I go down.

      God bless you and may He keep you safe in his loving arms. In Christian Love – Sheri

      • Hubert writes says:

        Sheri I know your pain, when Finromyalgia became chronic , my wife of 23 years decided I was baggage. I’d lost close to a years income, I’ll admit it was hard on her but … At any rate she got the acreage the home the kids and all. I got a broken mind and a shattered soul. Now recently my daughter who is studying to be a nurse called me up to ask that I not attend her, and her boyfriends family get together (a time of meeting the two families). Sheesh now she won’t reply to my texts and I’m pretty sure the boys will end up doing the same in the future . I’m a bore and a burden I guess. When I said I fell often I was referring to failing faith and hope . I have seen so much “faith profession” and so little faith hands in action with love, it’s very hard to believe there is a real “Christian” around anymore. I’m sure that would offend a whole pile of them but when you see what Jesus said for us to do and how to be — I ask are there any out there?

        • Hubert – If I had the power, I would bestow shame on your wife and children for they are selfish. I understand about the ex-wife situation. Tom’s ex-wife is the one who did the crime and she still gets 1/2 of his military retirement and will until the day one of them dies.

          Tom became ill 18 months after we married but never once did I think that was the time for me to plan my exit strategy. It simply meant I needed to rearrange how I handled my work schedule and many other aspects of my life.

          There’s no excuse for your children’s behavior – none. They are old enough to understand your illness and if they don’t understand it, then it’s past time they went to the library and did some research on their own.

          When you speak of your ‘falling down faith,’ we all stumble and fall. That’s the beauty of Jesus’ love for us. He doesn’t care how many times we fall, he’s always there to help us up, to dust ourselves off and should we accept his offer of help then we’ll be stronger for the experience and our faith deeper.

          Christians are around us everywhere. It’s hard to see them sometimes because they are going about their business and not asking for praise and worship the way non-believers do. Often it’s hard to turn ourselves around and it seems impossible but if we’re going to live in God’s Kingdom, let’s look forward to walking in grace and contentment. Blessings – Sheri

        • Maureen says:

          I had to reply to this Hubert, because I can feel your pain. Don’t judge our loving God by those of us who call ourselves ‘Christians’. It must break His heart when we see the way we treat each other. Love

  15. A thoughtful and forward-looking post, Sheri. I’ve watched this situation evolve with friends of ours and, as we do our best to advocate and assist, are evermore thankful for our large family. This certainly is a reminder to maintain and value friendships with others who don’t have the same large safety net.

    • Hello, Patricia – How nice to see you and thank you for taking the time to comment. You are so right about the ‘safety net’ being absent for those of us without family. Tom and I have settled into many rituals of our own but I know the day will come when one of us won’t be there to carry those rituals on and it will be lonely indeed. However, going through a medical crisis will be even harder without a soul mate at my side.
      It’s true, maintaining deep friendships requires commitment and a host of other factors. We’ve moved so often, I’ve had to make a real effort to maintain that relationship with those that mean the most to me and that I’d do anything for and believe they would do the same.

  16. willowdot21 says:

    With so many of us living to an older age the prospect you paint is becoming more and more likely! I have a partner and children and now a grandchild but there are many who future’s need to be more secure. One of my sisters, widowed and childless has certainly put her life in order, organized her funeral down to the last dotted I and crossed T. She has been in hospital since 24th April this year and unfortunately her home was flood damaged by a leek. Now all the family ( we are a large clan ) have pulled together and sorted her house for her. Mainly one of the brothers but we have all helpped ..I dread to think how she would fair had she been on her own.
    I fear the future when I allow myself to think about it but we must just be grown up and provide for ourseleves. I pray you and Tom will be together a long time yet and that your real Tom re-emerges. Love and hugsxxxx

    • Oh, yes . . . it would be heaven on earth to see my old Tom re-emerge. Unfortunately, he seems to slip away a bit more each day.
      Your poor sister, in the hospital since 24 April. That’s a very long time to endure that atmosphere and being at the mercy of having someone around all the time. I don’t do well when I don’t have a certain amount of privacy.
      It’s wonderful the family was able to care for her home and the flood damage. As you said, if it hadn’t been for family stepping in, what would she have done. This is a situation wherein I learn of women becoming displaced and actually homeless. There’s noone to help them and vandals take over their homes when they are away for such a long time and they don’t have the means to have someone look after their property. Your sister is blessed.
      You are so right, we must be prepared to care for ourselves. We cannot wait around for someone else to do it for us. Americans have become far too used to having social programs come in to take up the slack and our economy simply doesn’t allow that to happen any longer. Citizens of the United States must learn it’s time to take responsibility for ourselves and that’s a hard lesson for many to learn.
      As always, thank you for reading with me and commenting. Sending many hugs to you and yours.

  17. Mae Clair says:

    It’s an extremely scary situation. I think of how my siblings and I had to be advocates for my mom in her later years when it came to health care. She couldn’t make those decisions on her own, and if we hadn’t been there to intercede, I shudder to think of what may have happened.

    My husband and I are like you and Tom….no children, but soulmates to each other. I’m not sure I would even want to go on without him, but the reality is one of us will probably pass before the other. Sadly, I have also witnessed survivor spouses who have children, abandoned or neglected by those same children. We cater to so many different special interest groups in our country, but it seems as if the elder population has been mostly overlooked. I can only hope, as so many baby boomers age, they will make their voices heard to bring about change.

    • Mae – Thank you so much for dropping in and commenting. I remember back when you were helping with your Mom and the many sweet and loving things you were doing to help make those last years as wonderful and meaningful as possible. She was a lucky lady to have had you in her life.

      Like you, I’ve witnessed far too often the outcome where children turn their backs on their parents and never return. It’s as though they’ve taken all they can and when there’s nothing left, well the kids leave. It’s heartbreaking. I’d bet your cat(s) and our dog(s) have never turned their backs on us. Yes, I recognize they can’t do for us what we may need in those final days and years [depending on the circumstances] but I’ve never had a pet turn on me.

      Tom is very ill and that scares me to no end. I attempt to assure all of our paperwork is in order and that I’ve left nothing to chance, but I can never be too sure. My biggest fear is that something might happen to me and the care plan I have set up for Tom will get in the wrong hands and he’ll be at the mercy of heaven only knows who. It really scares me and is the stuff nightmares are made of.

      Just in case you are interested, the TV show Frontline on PBS is having a segment on 501Ks and other retirement plans and what can go wrong, etc. this coming Thu night. They generally do a really good job of journalistic reporting [imo].

  18. Reblogged this on Invisible Pain Warriors and commented:
    I think about this A LOT. Likely WAY more than would be considered healthy. I had no idea there was a word for it but I’m glad that the situation is finally being discussed and acknowledged. The truth of it is that either my husband or myself (probably the latter since my hubby is 7 years older) will definitely become an elder orphan. The very thought terrifies me more than almost anything other than the death of my parents, which I can hardly accept will ever happen. I sincerely hope that social programs or assistance have been put in place soon, as countless senior citizens surely struggle with this fear and reality and no one should have to live with the fear or harsh reality of growing old and suffering through failing health, dementia, aging, or dying scared and alone.

    • The best defense will be for each of us to have our own affairs in order, as they say. We cannot depend on social programs or assistance. With the sequester in place, all programs already in existence are being cut drastically and new ones are not making it out of committee, let alone onto the congressional floor. Our country is simply too far in debt to fund one more thing.
      At the present time, advocacy for ‘elder orphans’ does not exist. The population has barely been recognized and I stumbled onto it while researching another topic. I felt the information was important enough to open up a conversation as it’s not something we often talk about.
      Thank you for stopping in and leaving a comment.

  19. GP Cox says:

    As you know, Sheri, my family is gone – should my better half die first – that’s it, I’ll be an orphan again. I’ll just move in with you if that happens – how about that!! O_o [just kidding – I wouldn’t do that to you]

  20. I was an Orphan Sheri as a child and yes I may be one again in my aging years, that is until Jesus returns after all Prophesy has been fulfilled.in this Generation, I don’t worry about tomorrow but yes I plan for it, in Aussie Land at this time we have support for the aged and extra care if needed for those in their own home or in a care support home.

    Thanks for caring – Christian Love – Anne

    • Anne – Hello my friend and how are you today? I’m happy to hear your country has a plan in place for the elderly. I like the idea of support for the aged to stay in their own home – somehow I believe that’s what most of us want. To stay where we are familiar with our surroundings and in communities we are familiar with.
      There’s talk that Medicare will move to home centered care but we’ll see. I’d love to see that happen. I believe quality care in the home is possible.
      Blessings to you, my friend – Sheri

  21. rabbiadar says:

    A compelling topic, Sheri. Linda and I have done all our planning, but the day is going to come when a lot falls on the shoulders of our younger son. His brother has bipolar disorder, and while we’ve prepared financially, I worry about the fact that Jim may have quite a burden.

    Also, I am aware of a number of childless women friends who have been unable to set aside much for retirement. There are limits to what we can do to help, and I wonder what is going to happen to them.

    • Ruth – You’ve hit upon a highly vulnerable population within the larger population of ‘elder orphan’ demographics. I’ve actually thought about doing a post on this very subject. Single women, as they become older, are at the greatest risk of all population groupings to be homeless, without insurance and victims of extreme violence. I haven’t collected what I consider reliable numbers I can back-up yet, but it’s scary. The group also includes widows who managed to survive when they had two Social Security checks in the family but now that there’s only the one, it doesn’t cover the cost of living. Unfortunately, women of our generation weren’t taught the importance of financial planning and unless we went out and educated ourselves, we were out of luck. Social Security will not take care of anyone’s retirement needs.

      You have every reason to be concerned about the burdens that will fall on Jim’s shoulders with his brother’s bipolar disorder. Depending on their relationship, the level of his brother’s disease and so many other factors — well, let me say, it’s a tough road. Jim will want a life of his own and when I think back over the years of a demanding career that I loved and taking care of the demands of Tom’s illness and then finally juggling caring for my father — it’s alot. There’s nothing inexpensive about mental illness and although I weighed every career move carefully – it always came down to one thing – would I have 100% paid medical care for Tom for the remainder of his life if something happened to me. I didn’t want him to ever be at the mercy of a public system or heaven forbid at the hands of someone who didn’t care and they trashed a trust fund and he would be left with nothing.

      I continually review our legal documents but never know where I might have missed something. That is the reason I have them on continual review. I am so afraid I’ve left something out and it will fall through the cracks.

  22. lbeth1950 says:

    As a nurse, sadly I dealt with many elder orphans. Many of them have children who don’t or won’t recognize their needs. It’s a very hard life.

    • I agree, it’s one of the most difficult issues we faced in investigating nursing home fraud and abuse cases. We’d uncover thousands upon thousands of situations where the children never came to see the parents yet they were collecting the parents life savings, their social security and any other retirement dividends and never paying a penny for the care of their parent. To make matters worse, they never visited their parent. It broke my heart each and every time we had to let the elderly person know what was happening.

      What didn’t break my heart was filing the charges against the scumbags with the U.S. District Attorney for prosecution under the fullest extent of the law.

  23. Gallivanta says:

    Something I worry about a lot. Legal documents are fairly much in place in our househol but it is hard to cater for all circumstances. I suspect, like Maureen says, we are all alone at the end, even though I would rather it otherwise. Glad you raised this issue, Sheri. It’s one we need to consider.

    • I came across this subject while researching something else and felt it deserved it’s own attention. The U.S. has become ‘possession oriented’ in many respects and people have fallen by the side in many instances. What I witnessed as a child growing up in rural America where neighbors always helped neighbors, I simply don’t see that in metropolitan areas.
      I also worry for Tom and myself. As you said, our legal documents are in place and I review them on a continual basis trying to ensure I’ve covered the bases. But, the reality for us, other than wonderful friends [and I don’t take them for granted, not for one minute] we are alone – just the two of us.

  24. I guess we are all at risk. Who knows who will be around to take care of us when the time comes.

  25. My children promise to take care of me. I hope they don’t change their mind. I told them to make sure to remove mustache.

    • I love your comment about the mustache – every woman’s greatest horror – that long black hair that’ll appear in the night and we won’t know it’s there!
      I also hope your children treat you with the loving care you so deserve. You fight a tough battle with your disease and do everything you can to stay healthy. I admire your strength and courage.

  26. Maureen says:

    Thankfully we have children, but even those with children are not necessarily safe from becoming ‘orphans’. I suspect that in the end we are all alone…

    • Hello, Maureen – I’ve seen some of the tightest families fall apart and go their separate ways over trite subject matter and then the parents are left alone to struggle with what should be the years when they should be able to count on those they’ve nurtured from day one [providing that’s the case of course]. I’m ashamed of our society by what I see on a regular basis. I ache for the residents of nursing homes listening for a familiar footstep that never comes down that long and lonely corridor.
      I try to keep our legal documents up to date, but as you said, in the end one of us will be alone.

      • Maureen says:

        Yes, I have worked in old people’s homes, and it breaks my heart to see how the elderly are often treated. I remember a woman who had been a decorated nurse during the war who never got any visitors… Rod and I have already decided that they will have to carry us out the door feet first before we would consent to go into care.

        • Maureen – I understand completely. Feet first sounds good to me. The biggest regret or perhaps biggest tragedy is that I promised my Dad he would never ever go to a nursing home and that he would never die alone. We had talked about it and for years, I had 2 people that came in to do light housework, etc. for Dad. Often it was companionship more than anything. Frankly I didn’t care if they ever did any work as long as the house was manageable for Dad and his clothes were clean so he could pack his suitcase and pick up his ticket we sent to come to wherever we were. It was more peace of mind than anything that people in the community who loved Dad knew what he needed and he didn’t feel like he was being ‘cared for.’
          Well, in 2007 I had been back and forth to Kansas almost weekly and Tom was also ill and in the hospital here. He was fighting a serious hospital acquired infection and we’d just moved here and I didn’t know anyone to call on to keep an eye on Tom while I went to be with Dad.
          I didn’t know until after the fact that Dad had been asking for me for 3 days and no one called me. When I received the call, Dad had passed and he had been alone. I work hard to forgive my brother but it hasn’t come yet and it may never come. One brother was only a few blocks away and the other was less than 5 miles away – what can I say. It still gives me nightmares. I made a promise to my very own John Wayne and then didn’t keep it. I wish I could forgive myself.

          • Maureen says:

            Sheri – I know exactly where you are coming from. I worked hard to keep my Mum in her beloved home and made sure all the help she needed was set up, but the minute I came back up north a manipulative family member bullied Mum into giving her Power of Attorney for her welfare and put her straight into a home. I fought all I could to help Mum, but this person had been abusing her for years, and although I sent people round from Age Concern they could do nothing because Mum was scared to let them help her. It’s a really long story and I won’t bore you with it, but the worst memory I have is of my Mum looking at me with tears in her eyes saying ‘I won’t have to leave my lovely little home will I?’ and that’s what happened the minute I was out of the way. Needless to say this same family member was in like a shot to take everything of value that she could. I think for forgiveness to happen there needs to be repentance, and that’s not going to happen…

  27. You know, you bring up a subject many of us probably never think about – until maybe it’s too late. If my husband passes away before me or vice versa, I think we’re okay financially; but if one of us needs help when the other is gone, I’m not sure what we’d do. We’ve never talked about it. But I appreciate you posting about it. We do have a formal will and it has information about this in it; but darned if I remember what it says! My daughter (16) is always joking about how she’ll take care of me when I becoming “aged” but I think she’s sort of kidding. I think it’s sad that our culture doesn’t treat the elderly the way other cultures do. “Put ’em in a home and forget about ’em”, seems to be quite prevalent – which is sad. I wish families lived and stayed together like they did in the olden days. All I hear from everyone I’ve ever met is how they can’t WAIT until their kids leave the house and get out on their own. I hate that.

    • Patti – I believe it’s a fine dance about how long our children stay in the home. For some, it’s crippling and for others the extra nourishing and maturing is just what they need. I do believe a child at home, after earning a 4 year degree the parents have paid for, must pay expenses to reside at home. I think that’s the point where responsibility has to be set down even in today’s tough job market.

      I also believe it’s an indicator when children become adults if they want to return home to visit their parents. Even with my extensive work/travel schedule, I never went more than 1 year without spending 1 full week with my parents. I wanted to see how things were going in their environment. I felt it was important for me to remind myself where I came from and what I was taught.

      I cannot give legal advice, but on a personal note: our wills, medical powers of attorney, living wills, and general powers of attorney are reviewed every 2 years. That may be more often than some are comfortable doing but it allows both parties to know where all copies are, exactly what everything says and who’s going to carry out what. You also need to know where life insurance policies are.

      This coming Thursday, Frontline on PBS is broadcasting regarding 401Ks and other retirement vehicles. You might want to put that 1 hr of TV viewing on your schedule.

      As always, thanks for taking the time to read with me and comment. I always appreciate hearing from you.

  28. I plan to be a burden on my children whenever it suits me–and we’ve told them that! Luckily, we are all very close so no one is going to care. I’ll be quite sad if that day arrives and I feel like I’m in the way rather than just laughing about it. You never know.

    • Jacqui – It’s right, you never know. After my mother passed we always made sure with each place we lived that we had a guest suite complete with private bath for Dad. We were fairly certain he would never agree to come live with us, although he was more than welcome, but we wanted him to feel welcome for as long as he wanted to stay.
      I think it’s a good thing my career moved us so often because with each move, Dad had a purpose to come do all the odds and ends I wanted done around the new house and gardens. We of course also had to do all the sightseeing and that allowed for 20+ years of visiting all over the U.S. and 13 countries.
      I’ll cherish those years forever. I was able to get to know my father as my friend also and we were able to talk about anything and everything.
      Had it been the reverse and my father passed away before my mother, I cannot imagine her agreeing to be a free spirit the same as Dad. He made it so easy to take care of him. I also have Tom to thank over and over. Never once did he ask why I was flying Dad hither and yon or buying him a new car because I thought the old one needed to be replaced. Tom accepted we were responsible for Dad’s well being and they were so good for each other and for me.

  29. With our population aging and so many not married and without families this is a tremendous problem. And were weren’t raised in this country to take in our elders like in other countries. So sad.

    • Paulette – I didn’t give a second thought to making sure my father had a quality life after my mother passed away. My brothers didn’t want in on the deal but that was them and that’s okay. I was the girl, after all! Dad was fiercely independent until the end but, he wouldn’t have been if Tom and I hadn’t made it possible. My life was so much richer because of my close relationship with Dad and Tom had the chance to have the loving father he’d never experienced in his home of origin.

      The amount of time I spent working abroad taught me how 2 and 3 generations living under one roof can be a blessing and not a curse. Additionally, most of the families I came into contact with, the elderly were treated with a reverence and not as if they were just something else to put up with in today’s fast-paced world.

  30. cindy knoke says:

    A new vulnerable population. Sad.
    Family advocacy on behalf of an aged relative can be quite problematic too though. My daughter is a clinical social worker and program director in this field. She talks about how physicians, nurses and allied personnel address their communication to the adult children in the room, even when the parent is present.
    Also consider the problems of elder abuse. Now we have the phenomona where elderly parents who were neglectful or abusive to their children when they were young, being cared for by their adult children when they are old.
    Remember, “The Battered Child Syndrome,” was published in 1974. Before that corporal punishment was accepted practice and parents were not questioned about injuries they caused. If you talk to people of our generation about their parent’s discipline, you will notice in many cases, that today this discipline would be illegal and considered child abuse.
    So, we have a subset of adult children caring for parents who abused them.
    The solution to this understudied problem and the problem of elder orphans, seems to be increased funding for elder advocates and community based elder social/recreational/ support programs. How likely do you think it will be for this to get funded?
    So SAD!

    • Cindy, Indeed – it is a sad situation and we haven’t reached the boiling point. Congress is slashing programs, not funding them. Some states have state run programs but they are only as good as the people that run them.

      I’d heard some things I didn’t like about the Senior Citizens Council on Ageing where my father lived [back in 2002 or somewhere close to that time frame]. Individuals of the agencies were using vans and gas for personal use and not using it to take seniors to medical appointments, shopping, etc. The elderly population lived in extremely rural areas [60 miles to the nearest doctor and pharmacy plus grocery store]. The food pantry was always empty as the employees were using it and the list went on.

      I invited myself to one of their board meetings when I was home to visit Dad. They weren’t happy to see me but they couldn’t turn me away. After the board meeting, I asked to see their books and the dust began to fly. The numbers were made up! I paid the gov a visit and the staff was cleaned out. However, Dad’s been gone since 2007 and I no longer keep my finger on elder services in Kansas. Heaven only knows what they are up to by now.

      I discovered what services are available, few people knew about because no one told them about the services being available and for the longest time, I didn’t know the right questions to ask. For me, that was the hardest part of all. What’s the question to get the magic answer. The same can be said for most any service oriented agency where the government guards the purse strings.

      I well understand the doctors talking to the adult children and not the parents. That also happens with the mentally ill. One of the reasons we’ve changed many of Tom’s doctors over the years is the medical doctors would talk with me and leave Tom out of the conversation when he was sitting in the same room and able to communicate.

  31. Hopefully communities will step forward to look after elders in this situation. In my community, it’s typically the newly retired active 65-75 year olds who look after the frail 80-100 year olds who are most in need of support.

    • Dr. Bramhall – In an ideal world, the elderly would be cared for in a loving and compassionate way. I’m happy your community has stepped up to the cultural needs of the aged. You are more than likely aware that this is not the case in the United States, especially if the individual ends up in a nursing home.
      In small towns across rural America we see the same population you mention above as well as many that still work long hours checking on their elders. Their parents did it before them and grandparents before their parents. I grew up in such a community.
      Once you leave the small community; it’s rare the same support, compassion and love exists. Many individuals pushed into nursing homes go years without a visitor and the staff might as well be absent at the same time. Patients in nursing homes are fodder for doctors that want to bill for upwards of 100 patient visits a day and more and the pharmaceutical companies are charging a fortune.

  32. With our daughter so far away, it’s a valid issue for us. We have medical powers of attorney in place. Our situation is compounded by living in Quebec where my command of French is purely conversational, although I did survive major surgery in French in hospital for four days. Fortunately, Jacques’ sister lives less than an hour away and is our executor (and is younger than both of us). My 86-year-old friend has given a friend health advocate powers. She has no children of her own and stepchildren live far away. It is not an easy situation at the best of times, let alone at the worst.

    • Hi Mary – Thanks for stopping by. I do believe we talk the same language when we say it’s not an easy situation at the best of times. I’m thankful we have enough to eat but now that I’m the one going to the market and carrying the food to the house and putting everything away and then fixing it — well, eating out of the cereal box sure sounds tempting sometimes. Unfortunately, Tom would never consider such a thing.
      We also have medical powers of attorney for each other and for friends and have done the same for estates. We put the living wills in place as well. The paper work requirements and wording change from state to state so I have to stay on top of it as we’ve moved so much.
      I also learned by trial and error, it’s imperative I have a general power of attorney to execute anything.
      Life certainly has a lot of extra strings attached to it sometimes. As I said, I try to keep contingency plans in place but things seem to change daily around here. You must be on your countdown for your vacation.

  33. Thankfully, I have kids and grandkids, so I can’t imagine that happening to Sharon or me. As the responsible party for my 99 year-old mother, however, I do frequently wonder about people who don’t have a child or other relative to take care of them.

    • Hello David – It’s nice to see you here. I came across this bit of information while researching another subject and found it interesting. I’d thought about it before in relation to Tom and myself. My father cared for my mother and when she passed, I was afraid he might not live long. Once he made it through 2 years of grieving he was ready to move on with life and he had another terrific 20 years and I took on making sure he had the best life possible.
      We have wonderful friends and I’ve called on them from time to time when I’ve needed help. However, I’m thinking of downsizing once again. I don’t want to give up my gardens but I know the day will come when I can’t keep up with everything and I’m particular about how I want things done. [Major character flaw I know].
      The individuals I honestly worry about are those that have nothing but Social Security as a retirement plan. It’s simply not enough to support anyone in their advanced years. I think perhaps we’ll see more commune type living, people will need to consolidate resources in order to survive. Just a thought.

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