Many people fall into the elder orphan segment. In fact, research suggests that close to one-quarter of Americans 65 and older could end up with no family to care for them. This makes sense when you consider the fact that one-third of people between the ages of 45 to 63 are single.

Just last night, before falling asleep, the thought of being old, on my own, set off a fear that rarely rears its head.

What started the mind-chatter was the idea of surviving on Social Security, an oxymoron, no doubt. Honestly, I’m not sure how single people, living alone, manage to survive on it!

What We’re Up Against

According to Maria Torroella Carney, MD, of the elder orphan study, single older adults with no family are vulnerable to a broad range of adverse outcomes, including functional decline, mental health issues and even premature death.

Based on my own research, I would add financial instability, stress and potential legal issues – all described in this article – to this list.

According to Dr Carney, “This is a population that can utilize expensive health care resources because they don’t have the ability to access community resources while they’re well but alone… If we can provide earlier social services and support, we may be able to lower high healthcare costs or prevent the unnecessary use of expensive health care. With greater awareness and assessment of this vulnerable population, we can then come up with policies to impact and manage better care for them.”

So, What Can We Do About it?

Now that the elephant is out in the open, let’s break down each issue, one at a time. It’s easier to face and digest in smaller chunks than trying to absorb at once.

The issues will break into several posts on Sixty and Me, starting off with this overview.

Dr. Maria Carney, the research academic, has agreed to answer my questions about planning and preparing for the inevitable on health care concerns. I invite you to join the conversation!

As I unveil the hard topics, I’ll reach out to experts like Carney and others who will give us concise direction on a few of the above issues like functional decline, premature death, and mental health concerns.

It’s my intention to make this series as interactive as possible. So, please place queries in the comments below and I’ll find the experts and thought leaders to answer them.

Here Are a Few Questions I Plan to Ask Dr. Carney

  • What types of community resources should potential elder orphans tap into while they are able?
  • Healthcare is very expensive. What social services and support should we tap into early on to help us prevent the unnecessary use of medical care?
  • What kinds of assessments can the health care systems use to help our segment better manage our care as we get a little older?
  • Since most people (89%) want to age at home, what kinds of community services should city, state and federal governments provide to help make this a reality?
  • For individuals living alone at home, what community resources can we design to lessen loneliness and social isolation?
  • When living alone, what other things threaten our well-being?
  • Americans have a very high rate of chronic disease. With all of the money we’re spending on prescription drugs, what resources are we missing?
  • Statistics reflect the inadequate preventative care and lack of attention to lifestyle habits, such as diet, exercise, stress, and sleep. What can we do to change or, at least, motivate individuals to take action?

For those living alone, without a partner, spouse, or children close by, I invite you to join the Elder Orphan Facebook Group. Here we share resources, support, and tips. I expect more as we move forward.

What questions do you find disturbing when living alone as an older adult? What do you worry about most when it comes to being an elder orphan? Please join the conversation.

Let's Have a Conversation!