Seniors Outliving Loved Ones

Cissy Houston’s tragic and devastating loss of daughter Whitney Houston reminds us that increasingly, our elder loved ones may outlive family and friends.

“Elder Orphans” are those seniors who have lived long enough to see their friends, siblings, spouse, sometimes even their children, pass away and are left behind alone. They are the seniors with no immediate family or friends to help care for them or to make important decisions about their care.

Smaller families, combined with the longevity rates enjoyed by baby-boomers, means that we may see a distinct decrease in family caregivers. Higher obesity rates among the young can result in shorter life expectancy and poor health. Therefore, this may be the first generation of American children to be less healthy than their parents.

Seniors who live alone are estimated at about 10 million. Of those, close to 15 percent are those who need care and have no family support. It’s been estimated that nearly 60% of nursing home residents don’t have anyone visiting them each year. That means that a significant portion of our elderly population have no one to advocate for them and no one to make sure their health care directives are carried out should they become incapacitated.

Unbefriended elders are a sad truth and why we need to investigate creative and proactive solutions to this burgeoning concern. One such program is Minnesota’s Unbefriended Elders Project run by Volunteers of America. The activities of this project include:
  • Locating estranged or lost family members of participants
  • Facilitating increased communication between participants and their primary care physicians/practitioners
  • Distributing participant HCDs to healthcare professionals and other professionals
  • Increasing network partners’ knowledge of HCDs and working with unbefriended elders
  • Developing and sharing a protocol for national replication of the project by Volunteers of America, as well as other agencies and organizations
  • Increasing public policy attention to the needs of unbefriended elders whose number will increase with the aging “baby boom” generation.
Estate Planners and Eldercare Lawyers can help you complete a health-care directive, to make sure your plans are honored in case you find yourself with no one to advocate on your behalf. Growing old alone is an uncomfortable thought and an outcome no one could wish for. However, with increasing numbers and visibility, society will have to place elder orphans on its radar.

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Comments (1) -

  • Susan Fetterolf

    2/14/2012 6:59:09 PM | Reply

    I hope that this country will start to look for new ways to provide caregiving for seniors as I do not know how we are going to support all of our elders and we will not be able to afford to pay for nursing homes forever, which is the only Medicaid option.

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