According to the AARP, more than 30 million Americans, or 10 percent of the US population, care for at least one aging family member. However, many American families are smaller than they were in past generations. In addition, increased mobility resulting from shifting job markets and advances in transportation and technology over the past 20 years mean that many adult children are no longer in the same geographical location as their parents. These factors, coupled with the fact that baby boomers divorced at a greater rate than previous generations, leaves many elders without family to provide care as their health declines. So, they are turning to friends to fill in the gap.
While there are many professional home care providers now, most are cost-prohibitive for many seniors, as care providers charge on average $20 per hour. Elders are making connections at senior centers and other community events, and those connections are now providing some care for the elders whose families are unable to do so.
These demographic and cultural changes have combined to make senior centers as well as the activities organized by municipal Councils on Aging increasingly essential elements in the social safety net for many elders. If you are a senior citizen interested in connecting with your local Council on Aging in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Council on Aging has a list of all the local Councils on Aging here: http://www.mcoaonline.com/find-coa
Aging without a spouse or family member close by creates specific challenges for health, legal and financial matters. Seniors in this situation should revise their health care proxies so that the person they nominate as their agent to make health decisions if they become incapacitated is close in geographical location. I do not recommend completely removing existing family members from a health care proxy, but if family members are not local, I suggest naming a friend who lives nearby as an alternate in case the primary nominated agent cannot be reached during an emergency.
As the US population continues to age and as the traditional makeup of family and caregivers evolves, advance planning can ease seniors’ concerns about who will help them with their health, legal and financial matters. In addition, working with an experienced elder law attorney will help to address questions that many families may have not yet considered, while also helping to integrate a financial planning and long-term care aspect to a senior’s overall future planning.
Michael Stankavish is a lawyer and owner of North Shore Elder Law and Estate Planning. He can be reached through www.nselep.com