One-in-Five Older Adults at Risk of Becoming an ‘Elder Orphan’

Annie might be the world’s most widely-known orphan, but her plight pales in comparison to the struggles of the ever-growing population of “elder orphans”—aging adults with no one in their lives that they can count on to support them. In fact, as many as 22 percent of older Americans (age 65 and above) are at risk for becoming an elder orphan, according to geriatrician, Maria Torroella Carney, MD, chief of geriatric and palliative medicine at the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

The steady increase in the number of baby boomers who are divorced, childless or have far-flung offspring means that many aging individuals will lack the built-in family caregiving network that the majority of older adults find themselves relying on in their later years.

“As we get older, we need the help of a support system,” Torroella tells CTV News. “We have to be creative to develop public policies to help individuals who are vulnerable.”

Thankfully, there are also some steps that all middle-aged individuals can take to defend against becoming an elder orphan.

Draw up a financial plan: Ideally, you’ll have been saving at least a little bit of money for retirement for the majority of your working life. Now is the time to seriously consider what you want your future care plan to be, given your financial situation. Do you want to remain at home as you age or move to a long-term care facility? Will you have enough money to pay for care on your own or will you have to seek assistance from government programs like Medicaid? While much will depend on how healthy you are in your later years—diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s can quickly drain even the most robust financial accounts—it’s still best to have some kind of future strategy in place. (See these Top 8 Retirement Planning Myths)

Designate a decision-maker: Who will manage your finances and communicate your health care wishes to medical personnel, should you become incapacitated? Elder orphans often lack an advocate, someone who can speak up for them and make sure that their needs are being met. That’s why it’s vitally important to draw up the necessary documents such as a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR), as well as a health care and financial Power of Attorney (POA) as soon as possible. (Discover What You Can and Can’t Do With POA)

Make health a priority: Go for your regular check-ups and recommended screenings. Get more sleep. Eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Adopt a regular exercise regimen that includes cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training. Stay social and continue to learn new things as you age. These simple, well-known steps bear repeating because, while they won’t guard against every ailment, they are essential factors for maintaining good health as you age.

Here’s some more information to help you on your healthy living quest:

Why We’re Addicted to Sugar, Salt and Fat
How to Keep Your Brain Healthy
Yoga as Medicine

What steps are you taking to avoid becoming an elder orphan?


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thanks so much for sharing!

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago


Dimitris Dallis
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you care2 friends :)

Suzette Leleu
Suzette Leleu2 years ago

I am 62, childless and separated from my husband. This subject has recently dominated my thoughts. So I appreciate this information, and am always looking for more.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

Good information and comments as I too will fall into this category. Thanks everyone for sharing.

Emily J.
Emily J2 years ago

If you have older relatives who are moving into a retirement/care home, it is a good idea to check on them regularly to make sure the home is up to a decent standard, I wouldn't want this to happen to myself or my loved ones

Dawn M.
Natalie S2 years ago

Good to think about, thanks!

Diane Wayne
Diane Wayne2 years ago

I'm glad this is being discussed as I am also someone who has no friends (they've all died) or family in my life. It's sad, but it's the truth.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper2 years ago


Helga Ganguly
Helga G2 years ago

I might do that with 2 friends but 1 became widowed and remarried and the other wrote last Oct.ober that they'd found cancer and she had 6 months to live and her husband was finally being nice to her and never heard again. At least she had company. I will die under a freeway overpass and my dog will chew my face off and climb inside my clothes for warmth.If we hadn't had kids,my in-laws would have been very sad. My husband is an only child. But I can't help but think they were the budget breakers. Son went to a very expensive school-even with a scholarship.And Daughter went to a State school but she earned 2 Parking tickets a month and NEVER sent them to us till they were $75 (up from $25). She needed rent and other help and cost us almost as much as our son.