senior man on park bench

Elder Orphans: Aging Without Family

May 17, 2018 Carol Marak

When an older adult lives alone or at a distance from adult children it can add stress to their decision-making on topics of healthcare, living expenses, and mobility. Growing older is hard enough even if family lives nearby, but if a person has no one to count on for help with activities, it can become unhealthy and downright depressing. 

Recent data shows that 33 percent of people aged 65 and older, and 57 percent of people 85 and older, live on their own. Some of them are in danger of becoming an “elder orphan,” a medical term for aged individuals who are socially and/or physically isolated, without an available known family member, designated surrogate, or caregiver. The entire older population will grow to 98 million by 2060 according to the AoA statistics (2013). The chances are high that many will live alone without a family member to help out. 

As I myself continue to get older with no immediate family, it’s critical that I plan ahead. Since I created the Elder Orphan Facebook group for concerned individuals living on their own, the members have helped me look at a variety of alternatives to consider for my long-term living arrangements. Many members have found hope since there are so many people like them facing the same challenges. The group offers information, practical tips, support, answers questions and even gives advice. 

Many seniors have shared their deep concerns and doubts about aging alone. The common concerns and questions about how to thrive in the future include:

  • Fear of isolation
  • High-cost housing
  • Growing healthcare expenses
  • Rising cost of living
  • Inability to care for self
  • Poor self-image
  • Lack of community support and services

Support and help 
The thought of being elderly and alone is very stressful to some individuals but it doesn’t have to be that way. Today, seniors have many options to create community and support. Read how others have changed their lifestyles to make sure they thrive: 

“Don’t ignore your long-term care and living plans. Living in an assisted living community serves my well-being, social connection, and living life on my terms. It’s easier for me to surround myself with like-minded folks who want to thrive.” 

“When considering retirement, look beyond U.S. Since moving to Panama, I’m surrounded by caring expats, good affordable health insurance, and health caregivers. I live comfortably on less than $1,000 a month. Where I live, there are 30,000 North Americans and more coming every day.” 

“I live in an area where there is a large population of seniors, and many of them likely fall into this category. I know our city has many programs for the seniors living here, but I do worry that those who are already feeling isolated and lonely aren’t utilizing the services.”

“Since I have no family, I will age alone and don’t want to become isolated and lonely. I’m in good health, still working part time, and it’s the ideal time to seek senior housing for the future. I’m very interested in shared housing, women’s communes, and affordable assisted living communities.”

“Several of my friends and I are in our 40s and have already started the discussion. We have opted out of the marriage-and-kids paradigm, so we do not expect to have significant others or offspring to help us. We are looking into building a community of tiny houses with shared resources such as common spaces, health care providers, activities, buying in bulk, etc.”


What to Plan For
Here’s what we need when aging on our own. More affordable housing options is a good place to begin, then consider ways we can supplement our income, professionals who can help us think through critical decisions about healthcare and more. When researching places to live, consider:

  • Easy transportation
  • Social interaction with people your age and younger (intergenerational)
  • Entertainment; access to the arts and theater
  • Lifelong learning; near a college campus 
  • Fresh food markets
  • Nearby to health care
If you’re one of us, join the Facebook group for instant support, comfort, and camaraderie. It’s a gathering of like-minded folks with a common interest to express feelings and preferences, lend an ear, and answer questions. What you will discover is that you’re not alone and we’re in this together. 

Carol Marak is an aging advocate, syndicated columnist and editor at Seniorcare.com and CarolMarak.com. She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

elder orphans