By their very nature, you may not know too much about them, but they are out there: "senior orphans." What's a senior (or elder) orphan? They are seniors who do not have children, have no spouse, have had a spouse pass away or never married, have no siblings or other family members, and they are living alone with minimal or no support in the community. Sometimes, though, they meet the right person, like Magda Zecevic.
Magda is a Toronto real estate agent, who was introduced to one such elder orphan, Mary*. Magda, a Master Accredited Senior Agent, was introduced to Mary by Mary's financial advisor and a retirement home Mary had contacted. Mary was looking to move and wanted advice from an expert, so Magda met her in her condo, along with Mary's friend of many years, also a senior.
"Mary and I spoke about her plans and wishes to move into a retirement home. She had a two-bedroom condo which she had shared with her mother originally and just continued to live there once her mother had passed. She also had a friend in the next building who would take her to the store the odd time to pick up some grocery items." Unable to drive anymore, Mary was reliant on a small circle of friends, some of whom were also senior orphans.
"I usually carry a bottle of water with me and ask if I can put it in the fridge to cool," says Magda. "At this time I can get a good idea of how their nutrition is, by what is in the fridge. Mary just had pop there and some cake and not too much else." Magda could see that Mary needed help, and through her training as a Master ASA, she knew the right questions to ask. During their conversation, Magda helped Mary prepare to sell her condo, by getting her to list what Mary wanted to keep with her and what she felt she could get rid of. Mary was on her way.
Magda also knew the right people to help Mary in her situation. "I arranged for her to meet with an agency that could assist with the process of planning for moving her along with what furniture she was going to take with her to the retirement home."
Mary needed other help, though. "She had Macular Degeneration, [so] I made arrangements to take her to her family doctor… and for her to transfer from her pharmacy to the new pharmacy [near her new retirement home] that would look after her medication." Mary got more assistance than she ever might have thought necessary. Living alone, there was little point of reference for her, to know what she really needed.
"You could tell that she had been neglecting her health since she did not have anyone to go with her and did not want to risk going out since her vision had deteriorated," says Magda. "I made arrangements for her eyes to get checked up with a doctor who was a low vision specialist that was also affiliated with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). I also had to touch base with them to make an appointment for Mary to assess what services they could provide to her, to enhance her life." Other help needed from Magda included an appointment with an ear doctor, and follow up appointments with the doctor and the eye specialist.
Over the next few months, Magda helped Mary sell her condo and within 30 days after the sale, Mary moved into the retirement home of her choice. With the help of her small group of friends, "it was a job well done," says Magda. "All her furniture was moved and placed, pictures were hung up, all her possessions were in the right drawers. She did not have to look for her things."
Through all this interaction, the bond between client and sales representative morphs into something different. "I usually stay involved with the seniors for any follow up for at least 30 days, to ensure that everything is going well and to look after any concerns they may have." Magda continued to visit Mary regularly. New glasses and vision aids improved Mary's life, but many months later, Mary had a fall and was taken to the emergency department of a local hospital.
"The retirement home called me and I went immediately to the hospital," says Magda. "I spent the time with Mary while they were doing tests. She was very disoriented and was trying to get out of bed." Because they were doing tests on her, she could not take any medication to calm her, and Magda stayed with her until after they admitted her. Before Magda left her side, though she arranged for a nurse to stay with Mary around the clock, because "she was still disorientated, and I was afraid she would continue to try to get out of bed and fall."
After a few days, Mary recovered somewhat and Magda was able to visit her again. She called Mary's friend on her cell and "they spoke to each other but Mary could not say too much." Three days later, Mary went into a coma, and passed away soon after.
Stories like Mary's do not happen if people do not care, and if they have not been properly trained. It's a great example of the value of the Master ASA. Paul Cutajar, of The Pivotal Master Accredited Senior Agent (ASA) Program, says, "Realtors who work alone are caught in a fractured attempt at understanding senior clientele." Through training and focused experience, Master ASA's like Magda "grow in their ability to assist older adults. They share more knowledge, create better tools, and offer better analysis and care for seniors."
Our cities are rife with many more of these senior orphans. As Magda says, "they are very vulnerable and often would get taken advantage of."
Or sometimes, even more likely, they will simply not find the right people to attend to their needs. "Untrained people," says Cutajar "encounter situations where they don't know how to discover problems. And if they figured out the signs, they probably wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to help people fix things."
Stories like Mary's illustrate the value of all professional training in working with seniors, including anyone from personal support workers to Master ASAs.
*name changed to protect her family's privacy.