Childless elderly people need to start their care planning early

This article looks at the challenges facing childless elderly people, who are a rapidly growing group.

As Baby Boomers continue to age, American society is becoming older overall. That creates unique challenges, but one group of elderly people who often get overlooked are the childless. As the New York Times reports, about 22 percent of people over 65 are either childless or are not in contact with their children. Because children tend to account for a large portion of elder care, childless elderly people face a number of risks, including isolation, financial struggles, and legal problems. To help avoid these risks, anybody who is childless should talk to an elder law attorney and plan for their long-term care well in advance.

The growing "elder orphan" population

More people are choosing not to have children, whether for personal or professional reasons, which has given rise to a so-called "elder orphan" population. One study estimates that by 2030 16 percent of women aged 80 to 84 will be childless, up from just 12 percent in 2010. Furthermore, as U.S. News & World Report notes, approximately a third of Americans aged 45 to 63 are currently childless, which is up by 50 percent since 1980.

These elder orphans face a number of challenges as they grow older. Relatives, especially children, tend to provide elderly people with the bulk of their care. That care can range from driving elderly parents to their medical appointments to acting as their healthcare proxies. Without children or another trusted relative, elder orphans are more likely to suffer from isolation and depression and to lack a person who can be trusted to make health and financial decisions on their behalf. Furthermore, although just 37 percent of people believe they will require long-term care, in fact 69 percent of people ultimately will.

Planning for the future early

These challenges are serious, but they are not insurmountable. The best thing that those who are childless can do is to begin planning for their future early on. Cognitive decline is, unfortunately, a very real possibility as people age, which is why important legal, medical, and financial decisions should be made when one is still capable of making them.

For example, it will be important to appoint a healthcare proxy who can make medical decisions on one's behalf. Likewise, an accountant can be appointed to handle one's financial affairs if a trusted friend or relative cannot be found. Living in a group or communal home with other older people can also counteract the effects of isolation that many elder orphans often experience.

The importance of an elder law attorney

One of the most important people to talk to when planning one's long-term care is an elder law attorney. An attorney can help with various issues related to elder care, including with making an application for home care, setting up a trust, and Medicaid planning. By contacting an attorney earl y on, one will have the reassurance that is needed to fully enjoy one's later years with as little stress and worry as possible.