‘Elder Orphans’ at Risk, Study Reveals


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“I am an 85-year-old widow who has no children. What’s more, I’ve outlived all the family I had. I am so frightened since I am starting to need more help. Who will care for me?”

First of all, don’t panic. Look around and try to identify individuals who might be willing to provide at least moral support. Do you have a trusted neighbor who you could call on for help?

Why not contact your Area Agency for Aging at n4a.org to learn about affordable services in your community that could help you remain at home? Is there a senior center near you? Many senior centers offer services along with meal programs where you could socialize with other older adults. Do you have a financial planner to help you figure things out?

How about others who might be in your situation? According to the latest statistics, many are in the same boat. As a matter of fact, the growing senior population of baby boomers is particularly vulnerable. Nearly one quarter of Americans over the age of 65 are currently at risk of becoming “elder orphans,” according to new research by a North Shore-LIJ geriatrician and palliative care physician.

“There is potentially no structure to address this situation as this population is hidden right before us,” said Maria Torroella Carney, M.D., chief of the geriatrics and palliative divisions at the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Dr. Carney calls the group elder orphans because they are aging alone and unsupported, with no known family member or designated surrogate to act on their behalf.

“Our goal is to highlight that this is a vulnerable population that’s likely to increase, and we need to determine what community, social services, emergency response and educational resources can help them.”

A recent University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study (HRS) indicates that 22 percent of people over age 65 currently are, or at risk to become, elder orphans. This group is vulnerable to a wide range of negative outcomes that could include functional decline, mental health issues and premature death, Dr. Carney said.

For additional information, contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office to learn how a CAREGiverSM might assist you with tasks such as meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands and shopping. Even a few hours of companionship support each week could help you feel less alone.

To learn more about your local Home Instead Senior Care office, contact us at 419-472-8181 or go to HomeInstead.com. For more information about the research, visit https://www.northshorelij.com/about/news/aging-baby-boomers-childless-and-unmarried-risk-becoming-elder-orphans.

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