As Americans begin to live longer lives, we are faced with the unique challenge of how to care for ourselves and our aging family members.
The U.S. is unique among much of the world in how we treat our elders. Many Europeans, especially those in southern and central countries, live with not only their parents, but also one or both grandparents. The number of three-generational households in Europe, however, is declining while the U.S. is seeing growth in the same area.
Many European countries offer a universal healthcare system, but flaws in long-term care aid and reimbursement often leave younger relatives with the responsibility of caring for their elders. Some Europeans, however, cite this multi-generational model as beneficial for them and their families. Having non-working family members in the household can reduce childcare costs and distribute the burdens of domestic labor more evenly, as well as serving as a means of social connection between family groups.
Countries such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia rely on senior care facilities or in-home care to maintain the day-to-day functioning of their elders. Many experts claim that the United States has one of the most well-designed senior living industries in the world, along with Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Canada, and others. Despite the systemic harmony, however, many seniors find themselves suffering from loneliness and other psychological distress stemming from a perceived lack of connection to society at large.
Many nations are now left to grapple with how to preserve a high quality of life for their seniors and allow them to age as comfortably as possible. Within this issue, several interesting social pathways are open to younger generations interested in making a positive impact on their aging citizens.
The first, and perhaps simplest, is to “adopt” a senior citizen in an area near you. Despite its substantial legal implications, the act of adopting an older resident is equivalent to a basic sponsorship and advocacy and involves visiting them in order to bolster social connection between generations. Often a monetary contribution is required, but free programs to socialize with senior citizens exist for those who may not be able to donate financially.
In other cases, however, more considerable involvement is required to ensure not just a senior’s social quality of life, but their financial well-being and healthcare. Many seniors will begin to experience cognitive decline towards the end of their lifespan, and protecting their assets can be a concern for family members or friends.
One legal option for families with members who are no longer able to make sound financial decisions is to consider a conservatorship. Conservatorships are orders that grant a guardian the right to control another’s monetary and personal decisions given that the owner is incapable of managing his or her own affairs. These orders have received massive media attention in recent years as pop star Britney Spears has fought to be released from a faulty conservatorship in which her father dominated her career and all of her earnings despite Spears insisting that she was sound of mind. Certainly, conservatorships can be flawed if not properly investigated and regulated, but for families seeking to protect the best interests of their elders, they promise much more good than potential harm.
In other cases, a conservator may also assume legal guardianship of the elder they seek to protect. Guardianship entails not just financial responsibility, but oversight of all medical and physical protection of the person in a guardian’s care. Often, the burden of care that is assumed by a guardian is substantial, and in many cases guardians are entitled to proper compensation as determined by local courts.
Senior care can be a difficult part of life to navigate. Fortunately, the United States has one of the best-equipped systems of elder protection and many state and federal laws are equipped to help families ensure that their aging members have the best likelihood of maintaining their physical, financial, and social well-being.