dementiaDear Sheila,
I’m not married and I don’t have children. My mother took care of my dad until he died of lung cancer at age 90. Now my mom is 87, has dementia, and even though she’s living in a nearby nursing home, I feel like I’m taking care of her. I see her every day and make sure she has everything she needs. I do her laundry, buy her new glasses and hearing aids when they get lost, take her out to lunch, talk to her doctors, and generally manage her care. I’m 64, work full-time and, fortunately, am in good health. But lately I’ve started to worry about my own future.  I imagine dying alone in my house and no one noticing I am gone. With no family to count on, what should I do? Is there anything I can do now to make sure I have the help I need when I get old?
~Worried about my future

Dear Worried,
I’m also worried about you. Before we tackle the question about your future needs, may I make a suggestion about the caregiving you’re providing for your mom? Does she really need you to visit every day? Taking her out to lunch and talking to her doctors are important things for family members to do but there are other things (laundry!!) you’re doing that the nursing home could do. I’m concerned that at age 64 and working full-time you could be pushing yourself too hard and not doing the kind of self-care you need in order to stay healthy. Plus, if the nursing home gets used to you providing all these services, what will happen if you get sick or are away on vacation? My first suggestion is that you talk to the nursing home about picking up some of the tasks that you are doing. Secondly I want you to start doing things today that will help you to stay physically and mentally healthy in the future. That includes taking time for yourself – to exercise, see friends, stay engaged and pursue your interests. Still, no matter how well we care for ourselves, things can and do happen and you are wise to be thinking about making plans for your future. First of all, all adults, single or not, need a number of documents including a Will which spells out how and to whom you want your assets distributed; a Health Care Proxy which allows you to designate someone to make decisions regarding your healthcare in the event you are not capable of doing so yourself; a Living Will or Advanced Health Care Directive, which gives direction to your doctor about what life extending procedures you wish to have or not have implemented; and a Power of Attorney which allows you to appoint someone to make legal decisions on your behalf. There are agencies that provide fiduciary and care management services; or an estate planning professional or attorney with expertise in wills and estates or elder care that can help set up and administer these plans. Even folks with family often choose to have a paid professional manage these aspects of their care so don’t feel that you are alone in this. I think that having these conversations will go a long way to helping you feel more secure and confident about your future. Good luck, and promise me that you’ll do something for yourself today!
~Sheila

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