Both CBS News and CNN have featured reports on “elder orphans” this week, seniors who are living alone without children or nearby family. On Tuesday evening, CBS News featured the story of an 81 year old Florida man who had recently been released from a hospital following prostate cancer treatment. He had no food in the house and was desperate so he called 911 to ask for help in getting groceries delivered to him. Fortunately, there was a huge outpouring of support and lots of food arrived for him.
A North Shore Long Island Jewish hospital study estimated that nearly a quarter of current seniors may be elder orphans and that a third of those aged 45-63 have no children and may end up that way when they are older. This situation highlights much of what we senior advocates have been concerned with and discussing in recent years. Of particular concern is the discharge planning in the hospital. This situation of the Florida senior shows how important it is to make sure that patients returning home have follow up visits or contacts to connect the services needed to live independently and not return to the hospital.
So much of what the health and aging networks are focusing on here in New York State is on care transitions and care coordination as well as preventing hospital re-admissions. The state has launched its “DSRIP” (Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program) Medicaid waiver to reduce re-admissions by 25% and is awarding large grants to health systems that collaborate with providers and community based organizations to improve health care outcomes in their areas.
The elder orphan situation also points out the need to continue to focus on supporting local seniors and community organizations to develop self help projects like the “village movement” and NORCS or “naturally occurring retirement communities” which allow older persons to age in the community of their choice. With so many people living alone or not having nearby relatives, a strong local support system that keeps people connected is critical. All the key research shows that people live longer and in better health when they have social interaction and a strong network of support.
Contrary to the perception that today’s older generation has it made, the reality is that while many may have more financial security and health security, the reality is there is a lot of silent suffering and loneliness. It is up to us as senior advocates to continue to draw attention and speak up to make elder care and caregiving a state and national priority.
Here is a link to the CBS News story aired last night