“Elder orphans” is a term used for seniors who live alone in the community, with no partner, children or other people to support or care for them. Elder orphans may also be socially or physically isolated, adding to their vulnerability.
The number of elder orphans is expected to rise as Canada’s population ages. According to Statistics Canada, the number of people over 65 has risen 20% since 2011, to 5.9 million, and seniors could make up 23% of the population by 2031.
So far, there is little research on elder orphans and how their increasing number will affect the medical system, health policy and society at large.
Health effects of aging alone
Often, seniors realize too late that their abilities have diminished and that they lack support. They may have difficulty with activities of daily life. They may not be able to access the care and services they need, leading to preventable health problems, restricted mobility, psychological distress and lower quality of life. Elder orphans are also at higher risk of loneliness, social isolation and losing their ability to make decisions.
Protect yourself and your loved ones
Single older adults are at risk of becoming elder orphans, but people who are married and have children are not immune. Circumstances and relationships change. What will happen if one spouse dies, or if parents outlive their children? What if adult children are unable or unwilling to help?
Older adults can prepare for the future by thinking about what support and resources they have, what they need and where they might live (including factors such as cost and proximity to family and medical care). If you’re an older adult, make your wishes known to family, friends and health professionals. Establish powers of attorney for health care, finances and property, in case you need someone to make decisions on your behalf.
You may also want to research seniors’ resources in your area, including government services, community centre programs and volunteer-run programs, such as Meals on Wheels. “Home care services provided by professional caregivers can help reduce isolation and loneliness”, says Jodi Marrin, Director of Marketing at Bayshore Healthcare. “In addition to providing services such as personal care, housekeeping and medication reminders, professional caregivers can stop by for a chat to ensure seniors are safe and well or can engage in meaningful activities to create positive and enjoyable experiences.”
Being prepared means you won’t be caught off guard by a sudden loss of support.