Life Matters Media
Quality of life at the end of life

Are You An ‘Elder Orphan’?

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Thousands of baby boomers aging alone are looking for families to “adopt” them.

“Elder orphans,” or unbefriended adults, are seniors without children, partners or close relatives. Now there’s a new Facebook group with more than 5,000 members to help them find support as they age.

Although many members value their independence, most will eventually need care or assistance with basic needs — help that most seniors depend upon family members to provide.

Carol Marak, editor of the website SeniorCare.com, started this new social media initiative.

“How many families are maybe without an older individual, or maybe they have lost their parents or they have lost their grandmother? Of course, it requires a lot of forethought, and even some help with legal matters, but I think adopting is an option,” Marak told WBUR’s Here and Now.

As the massive baby boomer population ages, similar support groups for seniors will likely become more common.

About 20 percent of U.S. women reach their 50s without having children, up from ten percent in the 1970s, according to a troubling report on caregiving from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

One-third of middle-age adults are single as they approach their retirement years, after never marrying, divorce or widowhood.

The Elder Orphans group is restricted to individuals 55 and older who live without a spouse or children.

“Most of the members are very grateful to have found us, and realize that there are so many more like them,” Marack said. “We all share the same grievances, the same hardships and challenges.”

Group members help each other if they experience a medical event, such as preparing for and recovering from surgery. Marack said that physicians often wrongly assume patients have help at home, and the connections forged on social media can be essential to meet basic needs and for emotional support.

Conversations that start online are encouraged to continue offline and ideally, face-to-face.

Loretta Downs, a hospice volunteer and member of the Elder Orphans group, said the group helps vulnerable seniors feel normal and hopeful.

“The group has become popular because it is the first opportunity for single individuals of that demographic to identify with a cohort and connect to others with common concerns— and realities,” Downs told Life Matters Media. “Many of us were caregivers to parents, spouses and children who have died, or are estranged from siblings or children leaving us not only single, but wondering who will take care of us when the time comes?”

– Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons