Who are Elder Orphans?
Adults are aging alone with multiple chronic diseases and are residing distant from family or friends. It is a challenge to identify such individuals, often struggling and managing with their growing difficulties. If any individual lives alone or far distance from family or friends, that person is considered as an elder orphan. It’s hard enough to grow older with family near, but when an individual has no near and dear around to count for help, it can be unhealthy and depressing. It is a time to accept that Elder orphans - A real rising problem.
We all lead our early days in a comfortable and safe place of our own. We prefer to value our privacy and independence. We are in a mindset that we can do anything alone. But, one thing we forget that what will happen when there is a change in our physical and mental capabilities i.e. when we reach our boomer years. Will it be possible to depend on our willpower to fight with the high risk of immobility and dependence that we get from aging?
Older adults aging alone i.e. elder orphans may find themselves isolated and even find it tough to accomplish daily tasks and increase their risk of cognitive health decline, cardiovascular diseases, and even early death. To understand how most of the elder orphans look like, let’s take an example of a 76 year old man who was admitted in a hospital. He was dehydrated, malnourished, bedsores, depressed and had cuts on his wrists. For years, he had been living isolated from the world. His relatives haven’t contacted him for more than a year. The hospital couldn’t continue with his treatments so he was passed on to a nursing home to wait the rest of his life.
Certainly, the effects of aging affects adversely on an elder orphans as they need to concern if they can’t care of themselves and that too when no one is around. The majority of elder orphans are of women. The stress of living alone worsen the situation of elder orphans. Elder orphans are mainly due to childless marriages, children refuse to take care of them and divorced individuals.
Who are at a risk of growing as an Elder Orphans?
None of us are spared from the risk of elder orphans - A real rising problem. Still, some of the conditions that can lead to risk the most are:
• Elders alienated from family and siblings.
• Elders who are isolated.
• Elder women with no support.
• Elders having no children.
• Childless couples.
• Single elders with estranged children.
• Married couples with alienated children.
• Elders with no or less social circles and support groups.
Apparently, having children or being married will not make us safe from becoming elder orphans. In fact, it depends on how we build our relationships and bonds with people who may be reliable support systems for us in the future. Even if you’re married, you can outlive your husband or wife. Even if you have children, they may be unable to care for you because of their own busy lives. It is a time when everybody has to prepare to live as independently as possible. So, plan accordingly.
What are the common topics and issues related to Elder Orphans?
Elder orphans are more prone to negative effects of aging. Some of them that come up frequently are:
- Socially isolated - Elders who are aging alone and refraining from social activities and connections can lead to several health complications like depression and a decrease in action and mobility. They are more likely to get limited support in times of emergencies.
• Living lonely - Aging alone can make elders feel lonely. It may lead to the risk of losing their ability to perform everyday tasks, have a higher risk of acquiring cognitive illnesses, cardiovascular disease and increased rate of mortality.
• Having no legal support - Some elders have adult children who may help arrange finances and legal issues for them. But elder orphans, they have almost no mechanism or support systems that would take care of legal and financial affairs for them or would ensure that they are not being ignored when their capabilities and cognition declines.
• Living abused - Elder orphans are more susceptible to abuse, physically, emotionally and financially. Since they do not have family support and are dependent on social work groups, some people may take advantage of their condition and their isolation to steal their belongings.
• Affordable house – Elders who cannot continue to live in their house, no matter what the reason is, worry to get an affordable comfortable house. Many of them require a loan but don’t know how and from where they can get it. They fear of becoming homeless and scared to death.
How to plan in advance the stages in your Elder Orphans?
For those who are moving towards growing old, here are the stages of aging you need to know so that you can plan accordingly from becoming an elder orphans - A real rising problem:
• Independent stage - In this stage, you are mostly self- sufficient. You have the ability to manage simple health problems, chronic ailments and disabilities. You can depend on your own capabilities and do not require any help from nears and dears. This is the time to examine your place and community to confirm whether they will be supportive to you once you start aging. In this stage, you should be looking out closely for your health and the kind of care you may require in the future. Plan about a place you would live the rest of your life. You can choose from options such as long-term care, assisted living, or an affordable nursing home. Plan your savings to cover your future. Prepare documents like your will or a power of attorney.
• Interdependent stage - This is the stage when you are in need of help with basic tasks such as cleaning, doing house chores and other routine tasks. For elder orphans, this stage seem to be difficult but nowadays, there are increasingly more options coming up as more elders are finding themselves in the same conditions. For them, hiring caregivers and domestic helpers may be a perfect option. Group homes are also rising as a convenient option. One can also look for independent homes that provide strict security, clean rooms, decent meals, laundry services and cleaning services.
• Dependent stage - In this stage you are in a terrible need of others to help you in daily living activities such as dressing, preparing meals, bathing, grooming, driving, cleaning, shopping and even walking. You can opt for continuing-care retirement community in this stage.
• Emergency management - In this stage you may need a greater care and you’ll find yourself completely dependent on health professionals and medical. For elders who already have chronic health problems early in life, preparing for emergency in that stages of your life should be planned well. You must be prepared financially for this, especially if you are living alone.
• Institutional care – In this last stage you may be in need of extensive medical and personal care. This type of care may be provided by a nursing home or a hospital. Before this period, it is best that you have all legal and financial formalities done. This will be very helpful when you are incapable of communicating or understanding what’s happening around you.
Ways chosen by elders to protect them from becoming elder orphans - A real rising problem
- Some elders are living in 60 and older communities, or creating their own senior home communities or tiny house neighbourhoods.
• Some are sharing a home with other people. Their housemates could be friends or people they did not know very well when they first moved in. Their goal is not just to share expenses but also to share their lives.
• Some are sharing a home with siblings or other family members. In the past, many elders ended up with family by default because that was the expected thing to do, now people living in extended family households are doing so because they want to. Often people living in this way want privacy as well as togetherness. They value time and space for their own more than they had in the past.
• Cohousing communities are increasing into practice which includes communities specifically for elders. There are several other creative versions too.
• Some elders have created a close community of close friends while staying in a home of their own. For example, two single women share a duplex. This way, they both have privacy and sociability together. They can see each other and share all their views all the time.
How society can help elder orphans to live healthy and peacefully?
Every country needs a city leaders and policymakers to develop the solutions to improve the problems of elder orphans. We all want happy and secured life when we grow old. We desire this for ourselves, for our parents and grandparents. We need an organization dedicating efforts on following issues that is related to the needs of elder orphans:
• Place to live that is safe, comfortable and affordable.
• To lead healthy and happy life.
• To have proper living arrangements that suits elder’s needs.
• To have a healthy and financial secured life.
• To have convenient transportation system.
• Most importantly, to have respect for their experiences.
• As far as possible, to have a physical, cultural and intellectual connections with family, friends and communities.
• To have convenient access to affordable and quality health services.
The elder orphans’ population is an increasingly prevalent and is a real rising problem. They mostly go unrecognized by health-care providers and the communities. They are silently living in danger of medical crisis. The medical, public health, and general communities need to become more aware of these individuals and take steps in saving elder orphans - a real rising problem. Some serious action is required but steps could begin to address this growing population, identify their needs, raise awareness in public and prioritize decision-making plans, so that these individuals are no longer live in isolation.
Elder orphans are prone to several negative effects of aging like isolation, living lonely, no legal support, face abuses etc. To avoid them all, we need to plan much early for all the stages of later life like independent stage, interdependent stage, dependent stage, emergency management and institutional care. Societies too can help the isolated and left alone elder orphans to lead respectful life.