Eight Sources of Support for Seniors Without Family

Image of Dr. Macie Smith, as she discusses tips for supporting someone living with dementia

By Dr. Macie Smith

An estimated 6.6% of American adults aged 55 and older have no living spouse or biological children, according to a study published in 2017 in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. Dr. Macie Smith discusses ways to build a “natural” support system.

In 2019, close to 1 million older Americans were aging without a spouse or partner, children or siblings, including about 370,000 women over 75. It’s important to note that for these people, being without immediate family doesn’t mean they lack support. They have developed a support system of friends, neighbors and other people who are not related through family ties.

Sociologists call this strategy “substitution”—turning to others for the connections and sustenance that families traditionally have provided. Another term for it is a “natural” support system. I like to call this the “logical family,” as opposed to the biological family. Or another way to look at it is this is the family you choose, not the one that was chosen for you.

Here are eight ways seniors without family can shore up their natural network: 

1. Shared housing:

Shared housing matches people who have unused space with people who need housing; typically, at least one party is age 60 or older. The people with extra living space typically want company, help around the house or extra income, sometimes all three.

2. Co-housing:

Co-housing is a living arrangement created by its residents so they can live together in small homes, using a common house for meals, meetings and activities as a way to foster social connection.

3. Village Movement:

The village movement, which helps seniors age in place, might similarly expand its reach of community-based, nonprofit, grassroots organizations made up of caring neighbors who want to change the paradigm of aging.

4. Geriatric Care Practice:

A geriatric care practice, sometimes called a senior primary care practice, is a type of medical group that will not only have geriatricians—doctors specializing in the care of older adults—but also licensed social workers, gerontologists, community health liaisons and health care advocates all working together to connect patients to the services they need.

5. Area Agency on Aging:

Your local Area Agency on Aging is an organization designated by the state to address the needs and concerns of all older persons at the regional and local levels.

6. Elder Attorney:

Another great resource is an elder attorney who handles a wide range of legal matters concerning older adults. These include the creation of living wills, advanced care directives and long-term care planning.

7. Home Care Companies:

Professional home care companies like SYNERGY HomeCarecan also help fill gaps not served by the “natural” network. From a few hours a week to full-time care, SYNERGY HomeCare offers a wide variety of non-medical care options, from companion care and personal care to specialized carefor people with chronic health conditions or recovering from illness or surgery. Home care agencies are also a great resource because of their involvement in the care continuum of older adults. 

8. Long-term Care Insurance:

Long-term care insurance can cover the cost associated with home care aides or assisted living.

Dr. Macie P. Smith is a licensed gerontology social worker who is focused on helping families support their aging loved ones through long-term care. Specifically, Dr. Smith educates caregivers on how to care for seniors with dementia. She is an advocate for specialized care and assists others in finding a way to provide a better quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Smith has dedicated over 22 years of her life working in gerontology and assisting families in finding personalized solutions for dementia care. For more articles by Dr. Macie Smith, go to https://synergyhomecare.com/blog/.


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