It’s a heartbreaking situation, but one that a subset of older adults will face. They’ve reached their senior years, but they have no family to take care of them. What does a senior do in such a situation?
When an elderly person has no one to take care of them, they may opt to take care of themselves and continue living in their own home. Programs for seniors without family are available, as are nursing homes and assisted living. Some states will enlist a guardian for seniors who can no longer keep up with daily tasks of living or make decisions for themselves.
We have a lot to unpack in this article as we explore a senior’s options when they’re old, their physical health is declining, or they have dementia or memory loss, but they have no family (and possibly no money as well). Make sure you keep reading for lots of helpful information!
Table of Contents
What Happens To Elderly Living Alone?
According to a 2013 report from AARP called The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers, the AARP estimated that by 2030, a whopping 16 percent of women up to 84 years old will have never had children.
For others – well, it’s hard enough losing the people we love as we get older. But for some seniors, they may lose family members or become estranged from those who were closest to them in their younger years – their spouse, their kids, and their friends.
For other seniors, it could be that they are close to family, but their loved ones have moved to another part of the world.
Either way, these “elder orphans” only have themselves to rely on. It can be a really tough situation to be in, but there are ways to cope.
Here is what can happen to them.
They Continue Living Alone
No rule says an aging senior has to change their lifestyle just because they’re getting older.
They should consider their care options, but due to fear of the unknown or stubbornness, they might decide to continue caring for themselves like nothing is wrong.
This can be highly dangerous, as we’re sure we don’t have to tell you. If an elderly person living alone slips and falls and is not wearing a medical alert device and is out of reach of the phone, then they have no way to call for help.
NOTE: if you don’t want to wear a medical alert device, a voice-activated Amazon Echo Dot or a smart watch, such as an Apple watch, can be used instead. There is even medical alert jewelry that looks like a regular necklace.
Without anyone checking in on them, the senior would have to force themselves to get to a phone or risk being stranded.
This happened to my mom – she fell and broke her shoulder and could not get up to reach the phone that was on the counter just above her. Thankfully my dad came home and found her after a couple of hours, but I still shudder to think about what would have happened if she had lived by herself.
Sadly, many older people will go through this trauma alone (and, in some cases, their quality of life will be severely impacted or they will not survive).
They Move Into An Assisted Living Facility Or A Nursing Home
After a drastic change in their physical condition, such as one slip and fall without anyone to help them, a senior might change their tune and decide that they need assistance in their day-to-day lives.
They could move into an assisted living community or even a nursing home.
Usually, adult children or other family members would encourage this decision for the elderly, but not in this case.
They Enter A Conservatorship
Of course, we should note that both assisted living and nursing home care are anything but cheap.
According to Where You Live Matters, a resource for seniors, as of 2018, the yearly cost of assisted living was $48,000. We’re sure the costs have only continued to climb in the years since that data was released.
Senior Living.org states that, as of 2021, the monthly cost of nursing home care is $7,756 for a semi-private room and $8,821 for a private room. The costs would be between $93,072 and $105,852 a year.
Keep in mind too that Medicare doesn’t often pay for these services, which means a senior would have to rely on different insurance or other financial means.
That’s a lot of money to ask of anyone, let alone an elderly person who likely hasn’t worked in decades.
So what happens when a senior can’t afford to live in a facility and they have no family who can step in and help?
Well, in some states, such as California, a senior could receive assistance. The state could offer a conservatorship where someone is assigned the role of the senior’s guardian.
They likely wouldn’t know the guardian, but the guardian still makes financial, health, and medical decisions for the senior.
Usually, this only happens if a senior is unable to make decisions for themselves.
Not every state offers conservatorship services though, and even for the ones that do, it’s not easy to obtain these services. The conservators who step in on a senior’s behalf are doing so on a volunteer basis, after all.
How Do You Plan For Old Age With No Family?
Aging is inevitable. Even with a full support system of beloved family, aging can be scary. Once you remove that network, the prospect of facing old age alone is daunting.
We don’t recommend an elderly individual does it alone, for their own health, safety, and mental well being.
Instead, these should be the pillars of planning as a senior determines how they’ll proceed through the years without a spouse, partner, or adult children.
Put Your Affairs In Order
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to make sure your legal and financial affairs are in order before you have a health problem or cognitive decline. You’ll make better decisions when you aren’t under stress.
If you live alone, this is especially important, as there may be no one else who knows your wishes or how to access your accounts.
Good legal planning with the help of an elder care lawyer is an important part of ensuring that your wishes are carried out in the event that you are unable to make or communicate decisions on your own behalf.
Here are some key elements of legal planning to keep in mind:
- First, take inventory of existing legal documents, such as your will, power of attorney, and health care directive. Review these documents and make any necessary updates.
- Second, make legal plans for your finances and property. For example, you may want to consider establishing a trust or setting up a beneficiary designation.
- Third, put plans in place for enacting your future health care and long-term care preferences. This may include making decisions about end-of-life care, guardianship, and long-term care insurance.
- Finally, name another person to make decisions on your behalf when you no longer can. This person, known as your agent or proxy, will be responsible for carrying out your wishes according to the terms of your legal documents. In order to do this, start by designating someone you trust as your power of attorney. This person will be able to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
Many people don’t think about appointing a power of attorney until it’s too late.
Whether you’re dealing with an illness, injury, or just the natural aging process, there may come a time when you can no longer make your own decisions. That’s why it’s so important to have a power of attorney document in place.
This document allows you to appoint someone you trust to handle your financial and other affairs if you’re ever unable to do so yourself. You can also name successor agents in case your original choice is unavailable or unwilling to serve.
And it’s important to remember that power of attorney does not give the person you appoint complete control over your life. You still have the right to make your own decisions, as long as you have the legal capacity to do so.
So don’t put off appoint a power of attorney – it could be one of the most important decisions you ever make.
You should also write a will or talk to an attorney who can help with estate planning to outline how you would like your assets to be distributed after your death.
While these may not be pleasant topics to think about, making these plans now will give you peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in order.
End Of Life Wishes
Many people choose to avoid thinking about end-of-life care or funeral arrangements, but it’s an important topic to consider. End-of-life care can encompass a wide range of issues, from medical treatment to funeral arrangements.
Ideally, it’s best to express your wishes now while you are able to make decisions for yourself.
Addressing your wishes with your care team or a legal professional will ensure that your expressed requests will be followed when appropriate.
By taking the time to plan ahead, you can ensure that your wishes will be respected and that others will not have to make difficult decisions on your behalf.
Build Social Bonds
If you thought it was hard to find friends after college, it can be even more difficult in one’s senior years, but it has to be done!
A senior can find new friends in all sorts of places, from the doctor’s office waiting room to the post office.
Talk to neighbors, too, especially younger neighbors or neighbors with families. Explain the situation to them.
The point of being sociable is to build a support network. A senior should have people around them who will notice if they don’t pick up their phone. They need someone or several people who know the senior’s routine and can thus determine if they’re not following it.
These people will check in on the senior so that if, goodness forbid, a situation transpires where a senior has fallen and can’t get help or is otherwise unresponsive, the support network can step in and get the senior the proper medical care they need.
Mail carriers are also helpful if you ask them to keep an eye out for trouble. There are plenty of stories about mail carriers who asked for a home welfare check after someone who regularly picked up their mail stopped doing so. You can actually register to get this service.
Move Into A Joint Household
Assisted living can be expensive, but an informal joint household is usually a lot more affordable.
What is a joint household? This housing arrangement includes friends or extended family members of the senior who live under one roof. Collectively, they provide care for the senior.
This is a win-win-win situation. A senior doesn’t have to deal with the isolation of living alone, they’re surrounded by people they love, and they’re receiving care.
Find Other Family
Families are often bigger than we give them credit for and sometimes just need to reconnect. A senior should look into their family lineage if they’re fearing the years ahead without any care.
They just may have extended family in the area that they never realized were so close! For example, when I moved to Colorado, I was able to reunite with an elderly uncle who had been estranged from the family for several years.
Programs For Seniors Without Family
Another option for an older person is to seek the assistance of social services and programs designed for seniors without families. Here are some programs to look into.
According to the National Council On Aging, a senior center serves “as a gateway to the nation’s aging network—connecting older adults to vital community services that can help them stay healthy and independent.”
They can put you in touch with your local Area Agency On Aging for things like meal delivery, financial assistance and help with personal needs.
AmeriCorps Senior Companion Program
The AmeriCorps Senior Companion Program provides companionship to nearby seniors living on their own. The companion program is about building friendships between volunteers and the elderly.
The goal is to “keep seniors independent longer.”
No Wrong Door
No Wrong Door in association with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Veterans Health Administration, and the Administration for Community Living offers seniors and others in need community-based support.
Home Equity Conversion Mortgage
The Home Equality Conversion Mortgage or HECM through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allows a senior to use some of their home equity, none of which accrues interest or has to be repaid as long as they live in their home.
To be eligible for the HECM program, a senior must be at least 62 years old and have significant equity.
What Happens To Dementia Patients With No Family
After a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Suddenly, there are a lot of decisions to be made and new challenges to face.
If you have dementia, or are caring for someone with the condition, you may be worried about what will happen if you have no family members who can help you if you can no longer care for yourself.
After all, you may be able to manage perfectly well in the mild / beginning stages of the disease, but dementia is a progressive condition and it can lead to a decline in physical and mental abilities over time.
This can make it difficult to do everyday tasks and may eventually make it impossible for you to continue to live independently.
If you don’t have any family or friends who are able to help you, there are still options available to you. There are also many support services available for people with dementia.
One option is to move into a dementia-specific care facility. These facilities provide 24-hour care and support, and the various programs in this type of community can help to delay the progression of the condition.
Another option is to receive in-home support. This can include help with cooking, cleaning, and personal care.
The sooner you start planning, the more control you will have over your finances and the less stress you will feel. There are a few key things to keep in mind when financial planning with dementia.
Begin by collecting all of your important financial documents in one place. This should include bank statements, investment accounts, insurance policies, and wills or trusts.
Once you have gathered everything together, sit down with a trusted friend or accountant to review your finances and make a plan for the future. It may seem daunting at first, but taking these steps will help to ease your anxiety during an uncertain time.
Financially, consider the cost of the type of care you may need for memory care issues (such as home health aides or nursing home care) which can be extremely high. Even informal care, such as help from friends, can come with a significant financial cost, as it often requires hiring outside help to cover regular tasks like cooking or cleaning.
To help ease the financial burden:
- Investigate any long-term care insurance that may be in place.
- Also, if you are a veteran, you may be eligible for benefits that can help.
- If you are younger than age 65, SSI (Supplemental Social Security) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may be able to help.
- You may also qualify to get help from Medicaid (there are income and asset qualifications to meet).
- If you own a home, a reverse mortgage may be of assistance.
Put A Care Team Into Place
A care team is the group of people who you’ll partner with and rely on to provide you help, care, support and connection throughout the course of the disease.
The team may include your friends, co-workers or trusted neighbors. It also may include your doctor, nurses, social workers, geriatric care managers, clergy or therapist.
The goal of the care team is to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support. The care team also can provide important practical assistance, such as transportation to doctor’s appointments or help with household chores.
Begin to assemble a care team by making a list of everyone you can think of who may be willing to help.
Then, tell them about your diagnosis and let them know what you might need in the future (transportation to the grocery store or medical appointments, help preparing food, etc).
If they agree to help, add their names and contact information to your care team list.
Put legal paperwork into place so that your wishes are carried out for both medical care and end of life care.
It is crucial to do this before you begin to experience cognitive decline, so if you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a good idea to put plans into place “just in case” you are ever diagnosed.
Regardless of a dementia diagnosis, you’ll need to appoint a power of attorney for both your financial and medical needs.
A power of attorney is a document that allows you to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf. This can be useful in a variety of situations, such as if you become incapacitated or are unable to make decisions for yourself.
The person you appoint is called an attorney-in-fact or agent. It’s important to choose someone you trust, as they will have a lot of responsibility.
You should also name a successor agent, in case the person you originally choose is unable or unwilling to serve.
Keep in mind that even though you are giving the person you designate as your power of attorney the authority to make decisions, you still have the final say. They are there to help you, not override your decisions.
Power of attorney is a valuable tool that can give you peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in good hands.
How Do You Help An Elderly Person Who Lives Alone?
It can be tough for elderly people to get by without any family nearby. They might not have anyone to help them with yard work, grocery shopping, or even just keeping the house clean. And if they live alone, it can be easy for them to become isolated and lonely.
But there are some things you can do to help.
Check On Them
Just a quick check-in every now and then can make a world of difference in their lives. Something as simple as a phone call, a cup of coffee, or even simply waving to them from the sidewalk can help them feel connected and valued.
Checking in also gives you an opportunity to make sure that they are safe and comfortable. If you notice any problems, you can alert the proper authorities or provide assistance yourself.
Help Them Out
You could also offer to help out with practical tasks like grocery shopping or yard work.
If they don’t have transportation, you could give them a ride to appointments, social events, grocery shopping or medical appointments.
Solo seniors who struggle with mobility or age-related conditions like dementia probably don’t have the biggest social circle. They may not see or speak to anyone for days especially if they’re living alone.
By visiting the senior several times per week and spending companionable hours with them, you could improve their mental health and well being just through your presence.
Considering that a senior who lives alone might not have many people to talk to, they likely will have a lot to say when you two talk.
Sometimes, the senior may use you as a sounding board whereas other times, they’ll want to have an everyday conversation.
Let the senior talk, as this could be their only opportunity. Listen to them and respond thoughtfully and helpfully if you can.
Do Activities Together
Making your time together meaningful will have a senior looking forward to seeing you again.
You can engage in senior-friendly arts and crafts, watch old films or listen to old music together (which can invoke memories for dementia patients), or even get outside and take a walk if the senior is able to leave the house while under your care.
More seniors today are facing the prospect of getting older with no one to care for them.
Whether they never married and are childless, or divorced and childless, or their family moved away, or a tragic loss occurred, these seniors have to go through their most difficult years without family.
This never means that a senior is alone though. Through programs, conservatorships, community volunteers, friends and neighbors, and even long-distance family, a senior can almost always find a way to have someone looking out for them!