This week I am doing a workshop for an Adult Education programme on Elder Orphans.  I came across the term a few years ago, and it stuck with me because I am an elder orphan myself.  I have no children who might step in and support me when I am frail and infirm.   So what, many of my friends say, we have no guarantee our children are going to help anyway.

The Americans have noted in recent years that one in four of their elderly population have no support system for when they age. Many like myself have never had children, and the number of couples choosing not to have children, for whatever reason, is increasing.   I have found no stats for elder orphans in South Africa, but the 2011 census noted that never-marrieds increased by 9% from 1996.  Single member households, amongst the over 60’s increased from 16,3% to 26,7% over the same period.

I live on my own, so if I am rushed to the hospital not fully conscious, who would make decisions about resuscitation?  If I die suddenly and unexpectedly, who would know where my bank accounts are held, who to contact to cancel my insurances, or even what passwords will gain access to my laptop and cell phone.  If you live on your own, these kinds of things are an issue.

So what is the remedy?  Simply make sure somebody does have all the information, or at least know where to look  The South African Association of Retirees and Pensioners (SAARP) have a form on their website that you can print, called “In case of Sickness”.  It asks among other things for your GP’s details, any chronic medication you might be taking, along with a summary of your medical history.  And last but not least, who in the family should be contacted if needed.  They also have a list of items that are needed in case of death.  I know we don’t want to think about these things when we are still full of life, but a list like this should be completed and put in a safe place for when it is required.

I put these in the context of someone who is living on their own, but that does not mean that couples shouldn’t bother.  There are cases, such as car accidents when you both go together, so somebody else, maybe your kids, needs to know where to find the necessary information.   That will at least bring you to discuss it.

My parents, for example, had never discussed what they wanted to happen after they died.  One day I was driving my father to the funeral of a friend, as my mother could not make it.  He went on and on about how he did not want a service like the one we attended, but I suggested we should at least send him off with a couple of beers and he agreed.  Well, that is all we had to draw on when he died as he had not discussed it with my mother.

I know this sounds grim, but go on, draw up the paperwork, put it somewhere safe and tell at least one person where to find it!

Have a good week,