Does It Take a Village?

I’ve been working on a chapter about old age without children. Who does one turn to for medical care, practical help, and emotional support? If we had children, we would hope to get help from them, but since we don’t, who will take care of us?

Some childless folks really aren’t worried about it. They’ve got siblings and nieces and nephews to help them. Others count on church groups or friends. Still others say they have set aside enough money to pay for their care. But some of us just don’t know what we’re going to do if we end up old and alone. I think we all agree we want to stay out of nursing homes if we possibly can and we want to be self-sufficient. It would be nice to have adult children to take care of us, but there’s no guarantee that they would be willing or able. Nor would we want to burden them with our troubles. So what should we do?

An increasingly popular option is to hook up with other aging men and women to take care of each other. This could be an informal arrangement: I’ll be your emergency contact,and you’ll be mine. It’s important to make sure someone you trust has power of attorney and the legal right to make medical decisions if you can’t. See your lawyer to set this up. A point to consider: If you’re both the same age, one of you might become disabled and not be able to help the other. So cultivate some younger friends as well as your peers.

Some people are participating in a more formal arrangement. Have you heard of Beacon Hill Village? I hadn’t either. It’s actually a neighborhood of people over 50 who pay to join and share all kinds of services. The idea is to allow people to live in their own homes with dignity and the help they need. It sounds pretty good. Read about it. A couple other similar communities are Dupont Circle Village and Kalorama Village.

I think the most important thing is to have some sort of plan. Nobody really wants to be alone, unwell and unable to get help. That applies no matter what age you are.

Stay well!