The number of seniors without family is on the rise, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down in the coming decades. According to an Oxford Academic study published in The Gerontologist, over one third of American adults ages 45 to 63 are unmarried, a figure that has increased from just 22% in 1980. The number of individuals in between ages 45-54 who had never married is up 300% since 1986.

In addition, the number of women who do not have children is also on the rise over the past few decades. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that over 16% of women between the ages of 40 and 50 are childless.

Those figures point to a surge in the number of seniors without family to care for them. A study in Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research, which uses the word “elder orphan” for these seniors, suggested that about 22% of people age 65 and over in the United States lack a family member or designated caregiver.

Are there risks associated with being an elder orphan?

An elder orphan, the study shows, has a greater likelihood than a senior with family to be unable to access the routine health care they need, leading to more serious conditions requiring hospitalization, which may have been prevented with earlier interventions. Overall, seniors without family reported more isolation and feelings of loneliness than those with a family caregiver, conditions that are linked to poor physical and psychological health.

If you are an elder orphan, it is important to make a plan for aging without a family caregiver so that your emotional and physical health care needs are met as you age.

What are some steps I can take as an elder orphan to plan for aging?

Kiplinger’s 2015 Retirement Report tackles the problem of aging without a family caregiver head-on, outlining a four-step approach to building a safety net for seniors without family.

  • Put legal protections in place. Consider choosing a durable power of attorney to manage your financial affairs in the event you can no longer handle them on your own. If you don’t have someone you trust, you can set up a revocable trust and appoint a bank or other trustee in your place. You should also consider a health care proxy to ensure your wishes are carried out if you aren’t able to make health care decisions on your own.
  • Expand your circle of potential helpers. Building a network of people you can rely on to pitch in and watch out for you is an important part of your aging safety net, especially for seniors without family. Look for friends at church or in any volunteer organizations you help; neighborhood groups and senior centers are also good places to start. The idea is to have a group of people you can turn to when you need a little extra support, visiting you at home after a hospital stay, for example.
  • Look to outside experts and agencies. Many seniors without family turn to an elder care team to help them manage the aging process. Your team could include a financial planner to help you plan for long-term care expenses and other needs as you age, as well as an elder law attorney or geriatric care manager. These professionals can help you arrange home services if needed and watch for signs of malfeasance in your financial situation. They can also help you locate other services you might need, such as meal delivery, handyman assistance, transportation assistance, and senior centers.
  • Determine where and how you want to live as you age. If you want to age in your home without a family caregiver, you’ll need to look at services and technologies that help you live independently as long as possible. If you are interested in a continuing care retirement center, or CRCC, begin looking at your options as soon as possible and develop a plan to manage your expenses. In some cases, seniors without family choose to move to a different city with better weather, more public transportation options, and other services that make it easier for an elder orphan to live independently.

This article is only for general information and is not tax or legal advice.  Consult your tax or legal advisor for guidance.