The Challenge of Being an Orphan Elder

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Elder Law Attorney

“Orphan Elders” is a term I recently read about in a lawyer publication. It’s meant to describe the coming wave of childless and unmarried Baby Boomers and seniors who are aging (essentially) alone. Orphan elders have no surviving spouse, may never have had children, and now many have lived long enough to have no surviving close friends or family. Because of health and/or financial reasons, they become socially isolated, either completely or partially.

Although this is not a new issue, research presented at the American Geriatrics Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting gained wide television and print media coverage.

One-quarter of all Americans over age 65 are already part of or are at risk to join this group, according to a recent Retirement Study. This group of orphan elders is aging without the support of any known family member or designated surrogate to act on their behalf. One result is that by 2030, about 5.3 million older adults will be living in nursing homes, compared to about 1.3 million Americans in 2012.

With no family member or friend(s) available to help, orphan elders require heightened awareness by those with whom they do come in contact. These contacts may include their physician, nursing home and hospital personnel, attorneys, clergy and even law members of the surrounding community who are in a position to identify those who are at risk. After a person is identified as being at risk, there will need to be an enhanced networking solution to prevent the person from slipping between the cracks, and to make sure their physical and emotional needs are being addressed.

Social isolation at any age has long been known as a public health problem. Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between social isolation and diminished physical and mental health. Those who are isolated have worse surgical and medical outcomes. Growing evidence from studies of stress and the immune system suggest that loneliness can contribute to disease processes by increasing an individual’s stress levels. Other studies show that having a limited social network or infrequent contact with others results in diminished health. The flip side is that having regular contact and connections to a community leads to better health in older adults, including lower mortality rates, delayed functional decline and reduced risk of cognitive problems.

To discuss your NJ ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Elder Care matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.