Elder Orphan Academic Research

Members of the Elder Orphan Facebook group have high hopes that academic research will continue and make big changes for their needs and desires.

Most important issues we face are better clinical assessments for health risks, coordination of care, affordable housing, lack of social connections and support, few options for rides to medical appointments, and motivation for physical movement. 

In the recent 93 question survey based on life-course theories, Rupal Parekh, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington, discovered eye-opening preliminary data.

Through collaborative efforts with the members of the group, close to 500 participants, the study will encourage dialogue with the healthcare sector, home and community-based service organizations, technology companies, and attention from health professionals to be more aware of this vulnerable population group. 

The term "elder orphan" currently frowned upon by some but it's significance clearly understood  by others will gain needed attention of the aging and healthcare industries to better identify those at risk and to bring more visibility to the issues. 

In another recent academic study, The Elder Orphan in Healthcare Settings: an Integrative Review, headed by Jed Montayre, Ph.D., School of Clinical Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, found older adults that live longer experience complexities related to physical disabilities and lack of social support, compounded by circumstances such as deceased spouse, divorced status, childlessness and distant family members/relatives or having no family at all. 

The study points to the American Geriatric Society’s stance towards the medical treatment decisions of the unbefriended older population.

The unbefriended lack the ability to make clinical or medical decisions for themselves due to reasons like impaired cognitive capacity, and lack the advance directives or legal surrogates who will execute decisions for them. 

In my observation, and according to Parekh's latest survey of the Elder Orphan Facebook group, 45 percent have not gotten around to writing instructions for their healthcare preferences or have selected a legal surrogate. Not doing so will put them at high-risk for becoming unbefriended (Farrell et al. 2017).

There is limited research attention given to elder orphans. And we hope that will change.

Montayre's study shows the segment's access to available health and wellbeing support services, particularly regarding their future caregiving needs while living either in their own homes in the community or in assisted living communities remains very limited.

Overall, elder orphans is an under-developed topic within gerontology and health disciplines. A conceptual and theoretical explanation is necessary to progress future research around the topic.

Some of the preliminary findings in the recent Elder Orphan Facebook survey was surprising. For example: 

  • 53 percent have limits with activities due to mental, physical, or emotional issues.
  • 23% percent perform no moderate activities at all that causes small increases in breathing or heart rate for at least 30 minutes.
  • 54 percent have no one to help make medical decisions. 

However, I took a poll in the group asking,

For the more self-sufficient members, what types of desires do you have and would like to see addressed?

  • Create local support groups
  • Affordable housing solutions
  • Organizations for pet placements
  • Transportation to medical appointments

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