Over a quarter of adults age 65 and older live alone in the U.S., and that percentage increases with age.1 While some older adults may have family who live nearby, many do not, and may need to rely on friends or neighbors for assistance with various tasks to help them continue living at home. These tasks can range from companionship or grocery shopping to caring for them and taking them to medical appointments.
Here, we provide tips on advance care planning for those who do live alone. We also have tips for those who may want to or are already assisting friends or neighbors who live by themselves and do not have family around.
For stories in the community about those who lived alone and needed help, click here.
Six tips for those who are living alone
How Should I Prepare for the Future?
If you live alone and/or do not have family who can assist you, it is important to prepare for your future needs. The following tips are some starting points on how to begin planning for your care needs as you age.
- Start early
It is never too early to start planning for the future. It is especially important to do so while you are still well, mentally and physically, so you can think about your situation, preferences, and wishes in the event that you do become ill or are otherwise not able to make decisions for yourself.
- Build (and continue strengthening) your support system
Most of us have some type of support system – people who will help you physically, emotionally, and/or financially when you need assistance. Support systems typically consist of family, friends, neighbors, and others.
- Have at least one emergency contact
An emergency contact is someone you trust who can be reached in the event of an emergency. Most health care providers require at least one emergency contact. For example, if you are taken to the emergency room and then hospitalized, the hospital will notify the emergency contact listed in your medical record. There are other situations where an emergency contact may be needed, such as joining a community center or going on an international trip. Although your emergency contact will be notified during a crisis, he/she will not have the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf unless he/she is specifically authorized to do so under an Advance Health Care Directive.
- Complete an Advance Health Care Directive & POLST (Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment)
In the event that you are no longer able to make your own medical decisions (whether from cognitive decline, or getting into an accident), designating a trusted decision maker and documenting your wishes on paper now is extremely valuable. Your physician will be able to assist you in completing an advance directive. A Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment is something doctors will administer with their patient specifically around a number of critical medical decisions. Ask your physician if you need to fill this form out.
- Work with an estate planning attorney and financial planner to ensure that all your documents are in order
Estate planning attorneys and financial planners can assist with preparation of various legal and financial documents, such as wills, trusts, and designation of a durable power of attorney. Like with an advance health care directive, it is important that you think about and complete these documents while you are still cognitively and physically able. Also, doing so now will prevent some difficulties in the future.
- Consider Enlisting Help from a Professional Fiduciary
If you do not have a relative or friend who you trust to make decisions on your behalf, you may want to consider hiring a professional fiduciary. A professional fiduciary is a third party who can, according to your documented wishes, manage your finances, housing and care needs, and serve as your power of attorney. Professional fiduciaries are required to be licensed in California.
Below are some resources for getting started:
- Community Centers – Many community centers, senior centers, and other local groups may offer seminars or classes on advance care planning. These can provide an overview of what you need to do.
- Little Tokyo Service Center – For Japanese speaking social services, consider contacting Little Tokyo Service Center for resources. ltsc.org
- Iyashi Care – Keiro and Providence’s community-based palliative care program provides an extra layer of support for older adults with a serious illness or debilitating symptoms and their families.
- Keiro Resource Directory – Keiro’s online resource directory provides local resources, such as estate planning attorneys, financial planners, and social service agencies. keiro.org/resource-directory
- Professional Fiduciary Association of California: https://pfac-pro.org/ – The Professional Fiduciary Association of California provides a list of licensed professional fiduciaries in California.
Thank you to Little Tokyo Service Center, Staci Toji, and Iyashi Care for their assistance with these articles.