Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate: Dr. Cynthia Speaks!

Topic: Elder Orphans- Is This You?

I was listening to a podcast on yesterday and heard the term ‘Elder Orphans.’ Have you heard the term before? I had not; but it aroused my interest as a life-long learner. During my years of work as a nurse in the acute-care setting, many of the elderly patients under my care had no family. Sending an elderly person home in a cab after a hospitalization was unsettling every time; not to mention uncertain if the given discharge instructions were fully understood and would be followed. Research has shown that discharge instructions are poorly understood at discharge. Having a second pair of ears is always helpful. However, for those who are without immediate family, being independent is the only thing they know.

So, what are Elder Orphans? Elder Orphans are individuals who have aged and live alone. They have never been married, have no children, or siblings. If these populations require care, who will they rely on? Who would take care of their business affairs? Who would they trust? Who should they trust? A legal firm is one consideration. Friends or neighbors are a thought Elder Orphans often might consider. This could be good and bad merely based on consistency and commitment!

If these are considerations for Elder Orphans, there must be clear instructions and documented assurance that the request of the individual will be handled with expectancy. Further, an agreement with important parties who can and will step in to provide this essential role must be established. Thoughts that centered around the use of legal authority or a close friend (notice, I said ‘a’ close friend) to ensure essential services and possessions are taken care of and liquidated will be a significant role. Some of the needed responsibilities would include insurance company notifications, funeral services, notifying home services of someone’s death (i.e., light bill, water bill) what to do with property, canceling the Internet and banking services and a host of so much more. Would you be willing to step into this space for a friend or neighbor?

It is especially important that you get all the information needed “NOW” while a conversation can be had. The topic of ‘Elder Orphans’ shines a light on the importance of having needed conversations on the health, wellness, and end of life wishes. This must be discussed early and often with someone you trust! We all are pilgrims passing through…none of us are going to get out of here alive.

If you consider yourself an “Elder Orphan” now is the time, today is the day to begin putting a plan in place.

Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman is author and speaker. Her book: From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor shares caregiving tips.

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