The Unique Needs of Solo Agers -- Emergency Preparedness
Since there are numerous facets to discuss surrounding the topic of solo agers, we will offer a series of articles addressing those we feel are the most salient. This article will focus on the critical issue of emergency preparedness for solo agers.
Definition: A Solo Ager is a person or couple without adult children to rely on for assistance or support in the event of an emergency, a prolonged illness, or living a long life that may eventually require help.
How many solo agers are there?
According to a study published in the Journals of Gerontology, “it is estimated that 6.6 percent of adults aged 55 and older have no living spouse or biological children.” And, about one percent also fit the definition of “kinless,” which includes solo agers who have no siblings. While these numbers are not enormous, they amounted to “close to a million older Americans without a spouse or partner, children, or siblings in 2019, including about 370,000 women over 75.” (Source: Margolis R, Verdery AM. Older Adults Without Close Kin in the United States. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2017 Jul 1;72(4):688-693. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbx068. PMID: 28575387; PMCID: PMC5927096.)
What sorts of things should Solo Agers think about in terms of emergency preparedness?
While we all should have an emergency preparedness plan, if you are a solo ager, you really need one. Take this real-life example: a female solo ager in her mid-70s (we will call her Jane), living in Florida and without any sort of emergency plan. Enter Hurricane Ian, where her home was nearly destroyed ~ with her in it. Police/fire officials rescued her, but everything she had, including all her important papers, literally vanished; they were lost forever, and she had no copies.
Jane had not designated anyone to be her power of attorney or healthcare agent and she did not have a Will. To make matters worse (if that’s possible), she also had dementia, but no one in her circle had picked up on the seriousness of her memory challenges. And, as it turns out, her cognition was so severely compromised that she lacked the capacity to appoint anyone to act on her behalf, to sign contracts, conduct banking, or handle her healthcare decisions (did I mention she was also hit on the head with flying debris during the storm?). So, not only were all her papers, account numbers, and identification lost in the storm, now she is unable transact business on her own, and, legally, neither can anyone else. The only remedy for this situation is for the probate court to appoint a conservator for her so that both her “person” and her finances/estate can be looked after. In other words, the option of choice is no longer hers.
Here are some key recommendations for emergency preparedness related to documentation and life planning (not the many safety issues):
- Make sure you have all your legal documents up to date, in order, and that your appointees have copies or know clearly where to access them. (For more on this topic, read Part One in this series.)
- Have copies of your identification, insurance cards, insurance policies, passport, etc. in a secure place where your appointees can access them.
- Create an emergency contact list and share it with those closest to you.
- Keep an Up-to-Date List of Medical Information: conditions, allergies, medications, prescription records, and doctors. Periodically provide this to your healthcare agent and keep a copy with your other secure documents.
- Passwords: many of the newer power of attorney documents allow for login information, but if you choose to share your passwords with an appointee in advance of a crisis, there are secure ways to do so.
- Many people have safety deposit boxes to store their documents. If you do, be sure someone on your “list” has their name on the box too and that they have a key. If you have a fireproof cabinet or box in your home, be sure your appointees know this and have access to it.
- If you have a pet, be sure there is a designated person to take care of him/her if you have a sudden hospitalization.
- Get to know a few neighbors. They may not be the people on your “list,” but they should know how to contact those individuals if they notice something is awry in your home or your surroundings.
For more tips on aging solo, look for Part Three of our series on Solo Agers coming soon!