older adults at a bench

Over a quarter of adults age 65 and older live alone in the U.S., and that percentage increases with age. While the older adult 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 share two stories about older adults who relied on non-family members for support.

Story #1: Brian and Dwight

Brian was a widower in his 70s, who lived alone and had no relatives nearby. He was a self-described “grumpy old man” who liked his independence and didn’t want help from others. He frequently told his friends that he was fine living by himself.

However, Brian’s health began declining to the point where he could no longer live safely by himself. He was able to acknowledge that and decided to move into an assisted living community.

At the beginning, things were fine and Brian was able to manage. But eventually, he began forgetting to pay his rent. One of his close friends, Dwight, noticed that Brian was forgetting things more often and having other physical difficulties, and offered to help. As usual, Brian’s initial response was to not accept the help. It took some time and persuasion from Dwight, but thankfully Brian recognized that he did need some assistance.

Initially, Dwight only made sure that Brian paid his bills on time as he had no legal authority to manage Brian’s finances. Over time though, Brian’s physical health deteriorated to the point where he could no longer write or sign checks, and the rent payments stopped again. Wanting to help his friend, Dwight began paying Brian’s assisted living costs out of his own pocket.

signing paper

When Brian realized what Dwight was doing, he agreed to work with an estate planning attorney to designate Dwight as his official power of attorney. This designation allowed Dwight to manage Brian’s finances and pay his bills on time and with his money. Brian made this decision while he still had the mental capacity to do so.

Later on, Brian’s cognitive health also began to decline, and at times he thought Dwight was stealing his money. However, as Brian’s power of attorney, Dwight had made sure to thoroughly document all decisions and payments he had made on Brian’s behalf. This helped protect Dwight against accusations of financial abuse.

This story shows the importance of having your financial and legal documentation in order as well as being open to accepting help. Luckily for Brian, Dwight was willing and persistent enough to make sure his friend was properly cared for. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Name was changed for privacy reasons.

Continued to Part 2: Stories with a not-so-happy ending

For tips on how to help a friend, click here.
For tips on preparing for the future if you live alone, click here.

Thank you to Little Tokyo Service Center and Staci Toji for their assistance with these articles.