Elder Orphans Hiding in Plain Sight: A Growing Vulnerable Population," Maria T. Carney, M.D., and her colleagues, sought to help clinicians identify adults with multiple chronic diseases who are aging alone and are geographically distant from family or friends. Identifying these individuals might well increase the availability of services for this population as a whole.
One way that HeathCentral can assist is to bring awareness of this
issue to the general public. We interviewed, by email, Carol Marak, an
activist in the field of elder orphans, to provide us with some
insights. Marak earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from
the USC Davis School of Gerontology and advocates on behalf of older
adults and family caregivers. She is the editor at seniorcare.com and launched a Facebook group for people over 55 who age alone.
HealthCentral (HC): Carol, can you tell us more about the size of this population of elders?
Carol Marak: Certainly! According to the U.S.
Census, on average, 28 percent of the people over the age of 65 live
alone. The number continues to increase. According to the 2012 Census,
19 percent of women aged 40-44 have no children, as compared to about 10
percent in 1980, and one-third of the people between 45 and 63 are
single — a 50 percent increase from 1980. Seniorcare.com collated the
U.S. Census data for 8,000 cities. The proportion living alone increases
with advanced age. Among women aged 75 and over, for example, almost
half (46 percent) live alone.
HC: Many elders need more services than younger
people, but for elders with families their loved ones can often step in
to fill some gaps. What are the most pressing needs for elder orphans
who have no families to help them?
CM: They need affordable housing, public transportation, accessibility to medical facilities, and social connectedness.
HC: How can individual people assist this segment of our aging population?
CM: The general population needs to recognize that
people aging and living alone do exist. Dr. Carney says it well when she
says, "elder orphans, hiding in plain sight."
We are your neighbors, church members, and community residents.
Please open your lives to those who age alone. Providers like hospitals,
health care providers, city officials, and local and state government
agencies need to identify the needs of the population and to identify
programs and resources that meet these needs.
HC: Are there resources already available to help elder orphans?
CM: Yes. Before retiring I worked as an Information
and Referral Specialist with the Area Agency on Aging. I also
volunteered for 2-1-1. Every state has an Elder Helpline and 2-1-1 is a
nationwide phone number. Both have a large database of resources: Food,
housing, transportation, and home repair services can be found, but so
much more is needed.
HC: Your Facebook group seems successful. Is peer support helping people cope with their situation?
CM: Yes. I think we can help each other by sharing
our stories and offering support and encouragement. Hearing how other
people handle these challenges can be useful and inspiring, but they
also help by sharing information on resources. Although resources vary
by location, knowing about the housing options, transportation, legal
aid, food banks and other resources in one area can be valuable
information for all. Knowing what options are available and where to
find them can make a difference in quality of life.
I don't think the definition "orphan" excludes those with some means
of getting basic needs met. I think it includes anyone who doesn't have a
support system to help them age or get their needs met, such as during a
medical episode. Money can't buy everything, including a ride home from
a medical procedure or even a visitor to the hospital or someone to
shop for groceries.
HC: I agree that these needs aren’t unique to those
elders who have no support system at all. Many elders may have family
members, but they live far apart or might not get along. Also, we live
in a time when it's common for both spouses to work so there’s often no
one available to help on a routine basis, even if there are adult
Thank you so much for sharing information with us, Carol. Elder
orphans and, indeed, all elders need support. Your work is one important
part of bringing about that awareness.
Full Article & Source:
Needs of 'Elder Orphans' a Growing Concern in Aging Population