“Elder orphans” is the phrase du jour in the elder care industry. It describes seniors who are single or widowed and have no children (at least locally) and no support system. They find themselves living alone in the community with no one to help care for them should they need it. This group of “orphans” will increase sharply as baby boomers age and as average life expectancy in the United States continues to stretch toward 80 and beyond.
While there are many reasons for the growth in the number of these “elder orphans,” one of them is that we have become a mobile society. Some people move to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Sometimes it is because they themselves need help or want to be near those who can provide assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) like bathing, cooking, dressing, using the bathroom and other activities that are done regularly as we age but can become difficult if not impossible to do alone. Other times relocation is sought because seniors simply want someplace new where they can live without sharing walls with family members – especially teenagers! Still, others relocate for work or health reasons. The result: more and more older Americans will find themselves alone – without a support system or a county home to go to for assistance.
There are many ways to address the problems facing our elder orphans, including creating more publicly-funded senior centres where they can get together and socialize; setting up transportation services so they can have easier access to their friends in the community; instituting the Baby Boomer Bill of Rights legislation that creates protections against nursing home placement when it isn’t medically necessary, and ensuring that public transit systems meet the needs of all segments of our population. But we also need to keep working on other solutions like Watchdog Angels™, an interactive GPS tracking service that allows family members or caregivers (such as local Caring Communities) instant access via cell phone to the location of an older adult who might be in distress. People can download the free app onto their mobile phones and use it to follow a loved one’s every move. The app uses GPS signals, WiFi access points and cell towers to triangulate a person's position for up to 90 minutes. It alerts not only relatives and caregivers, but also public safety agencies like 9-1-1 dispatch centres so that they can send help if needed in a timely manner. Seniors who choose this system have told us that it reduces anxiety and loneliness – which are often felt by seniors living alone – because someone always knows where you are and what you are doing.