Are you an elder orphan? If you are, you’re not alone. A recent article that appeared here on the aging-related website NextAvenue describes how all the normal changes that come with aging, physically, mentally and socially, are harder for a senior to bear if he or she is among the 29 percent of non-institutionalized seniors who lives alone. That’s more than 13 million men and women growing old more or less on their own.
“An elder orphan,” says the NextAvenue article, “has no adult children, spouse or companion to rely on for company, assistance or input.” As a result, writes columnist Carol Marak, “The stresses of living alone will likely worsen for the boomers as a group since we have fewer children, more childless marriages and more divorces compared to earlier generations.” In other words, the challenges for seniors coping with aging alone are going to get worse, especially for aging boomers, the oldest of whom are now a year or so into their 70s.
Marak writes that her own experience as an elder orphan led her to start an online support group for elder orphans on Facebook (you’ll find the link in her article). More than 1,100 seniors have joined the group to date seeking community, connection and support. On the site, people who are aging on their own share personal experiences and advice about legal issues, affordable housing questions and transportation challenges. For example, a 69-year old woman about to lose her home posted this plea: “I am alone with my dog and don’t know where to turn. I fear becoming homeless, and I am scared to death. Has anyone here ever been through a foreclosure? How did you handle it and what did you do, step by step? I do not want to go into a senior high-rise and was looking into co-housing. I want to go into some independent living but don’t know where to start or what to do. I hope someone could help me.” According to columnist Carol Marak, “concerns like these get handled quickly with useful advice and tips” from members of the Facebook group. But that’s not really enough. “Since aging comes with sets of unique happenstances,” she writes, “it’s clear that we need services and supports at the local level to age successfully.”
We think Carol Marak makes a valid point when she argues that it’s time for city leaders and policymakers across the country to step up with creative solutions to improve the lives of seniors in their communities. “With the graying of America,” says Marak, “entrepreneurs and business leaders could benefit by seeking opportunities prompted by this massive longevity economy. It’s the local level that holds answers for the elder orphans and the aging populace.”
In the NextAvenue article author Marak cites an organization called the Milken Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research group and think tank who, she says, is answering the challenge. Among their other initiatives, the Institute publishes an annual review of more than 380 American municipalities in an annual survey of the Best Cities for Successful Aging. The Milken Institute has also created a document called the Mayor’s Pledge intended to get U.S. mayors to go on record committing their cities and towns to improving conditions for seniors. (We checked the website and it appears to us that the only cities in Western Washington to have signed the Mayor’s Pledge are Bremerton, Issaquah, Kirkland and Renton. Major cities like Seattle and Tacoma are nowhere to be found on the list of more than 170 cities whose mayors have made their support official. Maybe it’s time for a grassroots effort here in the Pacific Northwest.
The Milken Institute website explains the initiative. “Recognizing the power of cities to change the landscape of aging and serve as incubators of innovation, we launched the Mayor’s Pledge in 2014 to encourage our civic leaders to join the movement for purposeful, healthy aging and create cities that are livable for all. We issue the challenge again with this report, encouraging all mayors to sign the Pledge and incorporate its message and goals into their governing agendas.” By signing the pledge, mayors are making a commitment to an across-the-board effort to improve life for senior residents, especially elder orphans with no other support network. We’ve reprinted the Mayor’s Pledge at the end of this article.
At AgingOptions we’re acutely aware that aging is a family affair, which means that in an ideal situation seniors will grow older surrounded by family and friends to love them, care for them and support them. If you’re an elder blessed with that kind of care, we encourage you to take steps now to protect your assets, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of being forced into institutional care against your wishes. This may very well involve scheduling a family conference – the sooner the better – so you can make sure your family members are all in agreement when it comes to honoring and respecting your wishes and plans in your retirement years. It also means you need a LifePlan – a retirement plan that encompasses financial, medical, housing, and legal elements along with a family communication plan. Your LifePlan from AgingOptions becomes your blueprint to allow you to build the retirement of your dreams.
And if you’re facing the aging journey on your own, or know someone who is, that’s all the more reason why a LifePlan is essential to your future security and peace of mind. We urge you to join Rajiv Nagaich soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar near you. Bring your family and friends to one of these information-packed sessions, which are absolutely free. Click here for dates, times and locations, and then register online or call our office. When it comes to aging, don’t go it alone! Join Rajiv Nagaich for an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)
To make our city work for older adults, I will take steps to:
- Ensure that the well-being of our aging population is addressed by each department, agency and division in our city government.
- Make our city safe, affordable and comfortable for our older residents.
- Provide older adults access to resources promoting health and wellness.
- Support employment, entrepreneurship, education and other services to make our older residents more financially secure.
- Offer housing options that suit the varied needs of our older population.
- Improve access to transportation and mobility options for our older adults.
To provide opportunities for older adults to work for our city, I will:
- Promote the engagement of older residents in volunteer and paid roles that serve the needs of our city and its residents.
- Call upon higher education and workforce development programs to help older adults refresh their skills, train and transition to a new stage of work focused on strengthening our city.
- Recognize older residents as an asset for our city and celebrate their contributions to improving lives for all generations.