More and more these days, elderly people are living alone.
According to a 2008 article by Lonnette Harrell:
So many of today’s elderly are poor and sick, hardly able to care for themselves, often with no family or close friends, and are often dealing with some level of confusion or dementia. When the elderly die, they usually die alone, just as they have lived in their later years. Sometimes they die at home alone, and sometimes they die in hospitals, or nursing homes. It is such a tragic end for a person who has given so much of their lifetime to others, and yet, when it is their time to depart, there is no one to be there for them. Many times their bodies are not discovered for a long time, because no one cares, or notices that they are missing.
They are sometimes referred to as “elder orphans.” It is estimated, by Kenneth W. Wachter, Ph. D., Chair of the Department of Demography, at the University of California at Berkeley, that “the number of Americans between the ages of 70 and 85, without a living spouse, without any biological or stepchildren, and without living siblings or half-siblings, will total more than 2 million people by the year 2030.” It is an increasing problem as the Baby Boomers age, due to their low birth rate, and their longer lifespan. After age 80, Alzheimer’s disease increases to between 22% and 40%. This cognitive impairment, leads to the elderly without family, being unable to care for themselves properly.
While those figures are based on the absence of any immediate family, many seniors may find themselves faced with a situation in which while there may be immediate family family members available who COULD help, there aren’t any who either want to or feel any responsibility to. According to Ms. Harrell, “In times past, the elderly were part of an extended family, with children or grandchildren nearby, who would assist them in their later years. But with families living all over the globe, there is often not a relative close by, or more often, one who is willing to take on the burden of an aging parent.
I’ve been pretty lucky in that respect. My youngest daughter actually went to school to learn to deal with people like me and has pretty much always been there for me and even my nine year old grandson is getting into the “helping grandpa” routine on a regular basis. As my illness advances and doing the simple things that most people take for granted becomes more and more difficult, the distance between myself and the other kids seems to grow, I take a lot of comfort from knowing that someone cares enough to make sure I get to where I need to go, get the things done that need to be done and even get out of the house for a little entertainment once in a while, even if it’s just lunch at Hometown on my birthday or a couple of hours at a local park.
But I live in a senior citizen complex full of people many of whom have been basically warehoused out by their families, often as a cheaper alternative to a nursing home or skilled care facility. Many of them are just sitting waiting to die, which, in spite of the fact that my situation in this regard is better than that of many, I often find myself doing. We have a little routine around here… the paramedic unit and ambulance show up, someone is hustled out on a gurney and we all wonder which apartment will be for rent next week. So far, #209, right across from mine holds the record for largest number of turnovers. Depressing, even morbid? Yes, but when you’re our age depression simply means that you’re still here to be depressed… at least until it’s YOUR apartment number that comes up.
I’m not sure what my purpose was in writing this. I’m not going to change any young person’s mind, nobody is suddenly going to be struck by the urge to dial up old Gramps who’s got his phone all charged up waiting for those holiday calls that never come. The call that could have let them know how much they’re appreciated for having been there for the caller when said caller was a kid but never came because everyone said what hey had to say in a little one liner blurb on Facebook. Nobody is going to call up their grandpa who’s having one of those “just sitting her waiting to die” days or their mom, who, if she’s lucky, has the youngest kid living in her house with her to take care of all that morale and cheering up stuff no matter how rough it is on that youngest kid.
Just the normal depression I feel every holiday when people are barbecuing or roasting turkeys or off to the lake or the coast or just the local fireworks show and I’m still sitting here…just waiting to die so someone can have my apartment. and thinking of those .around me who have it even worse than I do.