Seniors in plain sight are everywhere, we're just unnoticed. You bump into us in places of worship, at the market, in a restaurant, at the gas pump, and even the gym.
Research geriatricians claims this segment are the aged, community-dwelling individuals, socially and/or physically isolated, without a family member or surrogate or caregiver, and often labeled, “elder orphans, aging alone, solo agers.”
I hope to encourage professionals across business, healthcare, and technology to work cooperatively and implement policies to help this segment become more visible and acknowledged.
In a dynamic Facebook group, individuals over 55 come together, offer support, and give advice. Most want to know, “why are we alone?” No one knew the answer until recently.
In a study of the Elder Orphans group, a PhD Candidate discovered that when a person has a limited social network, grave side effects occur. Of the 500 surveyed, 53 percent have no help at all when ill and confined to a bed.
The U.S. Census sees the numbers growing. Close to 29 percent of people 65 and older, and 57 percent of the oldest old, 85 plus, live alone.
Reasons for solo aging are unique. But for a widow who lost a spouse, a divorced person who couldn’t make it work, and for someone who chooses single hood, they just want to be safe, healthy, and connected.
A sickness or accident can leave a solo ager feeling unsettled and anxious. I get along well with being alone and can adapt to getting older and dealing with loneliness. But yesterday, I became very ill with vertigo and nausea, while lying around, my aloneness crept up. I really didn't want someone to take care of me, but rather someone just to pop in and check on me. If I needed to go to the emergency room, I was up a creek. I live in my own house and have neighbors I don't know. I have no family, kids, or siblings. I felt helpless and vulnerable, which is not my usual style.
Technology and apps offer wide-ranging solutions to assist those with minimal social circles.
Facebook proves it everyday. Open a discussion, a person gets an answer. Have a problem, post it, you’ll get an opinion, immediately. May not be from an expert, but real-life people who gladly and generously share what they know and what helped them.
Last week, a broken down car left a member stranded. She posted her dilemma in the group. Within the hour, a member in the area, came to the rescue. They never met before until that day.
Immediate, fast, and reliable. The key to creating solutions is to remember that it’s just a tool. Whatever service it is. Like Facebook, it solves the social isolation to a point. But not totally. We’re still alone, communicating through a screen.
What’s needed are rides to places where people socialize and to medical treatments. Group members complain that physicians turn them away from medical tests like colonoscopies if they come without someone to wait.
Using Uber or Lyft would solve it, but doctors don’t trust the vetting process. Plus, they don’t want patients taking public transportation. But physicians do allow private ride share options when vetted by their staff. But it’s costly since the driver must wait for the patient.
The complex medical and psychosocial issues for elder orphans significantly impact the individual person, communities, and health-care expenditures. And we don’t have family or dependable friends to rely on. It’s a problem. We have to develop for this particular segment.
When building houses, creating services, or developing healthcare strategies for the adult growing older alone, think about: “Does she really need 2000 square feet to live,” and “who does she rely on for help after a hospital discharge or when she’s confined to bed,” or “how will she get home after a medical treatment?”
See the segment and know our issues.