As the Baby Boomers move into old age, a new problem is emerging. Many of them chose not to have children. Now large percentages of the elderly will have no children or other family members to care for them. As it is, 60% of the residents of nursing homes have no regular visitors. These isolated old folks are being called “elder orphans.”
There are unprecedented numbers of childless and unmarried individuals among the aging Baby Boomer population, leading researchers to coin the new phrase ‘elder orphans’. According to U.S. Census data, about one-third of Americans aged 45 to 63 are single, a 50% increase from 1980, and nearly 19% of women aged 40 to 44 have no children, compared to 10% in 1980. The trend is causing concern among geriatricians and palliative care physicians who say that many are at risk of becoming ‘elder orphans’ with little support available to them as they age. Sadly, many will have no known family member or designated person to act on their behalf. . . .
Dr. Joyce Varner, professor and director of the Adult-Geron Primacy Care NP track program at the University of South Alabama, says that the decision to remain childless contributes to the problem. Shockingly, based on her own research Varner estimates that about 60% of nursing home residents do not have regular visitors. At 59, Varner will be an elder orphan herself and comments of the situation:“My generation was one of the first that elected not to have children… I see a lot of sadness and regret on the part of the elderly people who decided not to have children. A lot of fear. ‘How are we going to get care? Is there going to be anyone with me at the end of life?’”
By forming close communities and developing connections across the community, it is more likely that elder orphans will be able to reach out for support. There are many volunteer programmes and individuals willing to help if they are aware of the need, making a greater awareness and concern about the issue among the general community crucial to the wellbeing of the growing elderly population.
Good “close communities” would be churches! Reaching out to “elder orphans” would be a good service for congregations to take on.
HT: Mary Moerbe