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Successful Aging: I don’t have children, so who will help me as I get older?

Q. I am in my mid 60s, live alone and never had children. Many of my friends talk about how their children and grandchildren are such a large part of their lives. I don’t have this. How do I look ahead and plan for a time when I will likely need help and there won’t be family around to help me? S.K.

Dear S.K.

You have raised an important concern shared by Sara Zeff Geber in her recently published book, “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers” (Mango Publishing, 2018). She writes that for those without children, “Whether married/partnered or single in the second half of life, you will not have the safety net of that immediate younger generation to count on later in life in an emergency or even an extended illness.”

The number of solo agers is increasing. According to a report from AARP, almost 12 percent of women ages 80 to 84 were childless in 2010. By 2030, the number will reach 16 percent.

These percentages are important because they suggest that there will be fewer traditional caregivers for aging parents. About 70 percent of us will need some assistance in our later years, particularly in our mid- to late-80s and older.

Let’s begin with some basic information. Huffington Post’s Carol Marak suggests we all become acquainted with Eldercare 101.

1. Medicare does not pay for long-term care services – also called custodial care or activities of daily living – such as bathing, getting dressed and toileting and grooming if that is the only care you need. Medicare pays for acute medical care, doctor visits, drugs and a hospital stay.

2. Medicaid is a combined program offered by federal and state governments to cover some healthcare expenses for those with limited income and resources. Medicaid has stringent regulations on eligibility. Most, but not all, nursing homes accept Medicaid payment.

3. If you have enough money, long-term care can be paid out-of-pocket. Long-term care insurance helps pay costs associated with long-term care. It’s important to know the daily amount it pays.

Family members provide most (86 percent) of long-term care for aging kin. The question is, “Will a family member be available to you?” Geber asks us to imagine moving in with a sibling, niece or nephew and their family – or moving a family member in with you. If we can envision this scenario, she suggests beginning the discussion now. Talk about the type of assistance you might need, driving to appointments, sharing meals. Would they help with more personal activities like bathing or dressing?

Of equal importance are people in your life who are not relatives you might depend upon for support, guidance and caring. It may be one or a few. Perhaps it a small circle of friends from your religious community, book or knitting group.

If you find that trustworthy person you can depend on for support and care, consider working out a payment strategy and put it in writing. An elder law attorney can guide you. To prevent elder abuse, conduct a thorough background check on the person and the plan before signing anything.

Also, consider finding a younger support system. Geber suggests it’s time “to step out of the box” to find younger people who might share your interests and become trusted friends. She suggests looking toward nieces and nephews, children of your close friends, younger coworkers and younger people on civic committees or boards on which you serve. Even look to younger neighbors.

If this does not work, you might consider alternatives such as home care, assisted living or if needed, a nursing home. Medicare and private insurance will cover skilled nursing home costs for up to 100 days after being discharged from a hospital. Long-term care insurance can cover some or most of the expense.

When it comes to money matters, Kerry Hannon’s recently published book “Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women” (Post Hill Press, 2017) provides a “Money Savvy Checklist” for younger and older generations to ensure that we rule our finances rather than having our finances ruling us.

S.K., Your living environment plays a big role in supporting your needs. Next week we’ll discuss some of those options. In the meantime, wishing you all the best on your important journey to care for yourself.

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