More and more adults are aging alone with multiple chronic diseases and live far away from relatives or friends. The term elder orphans was coined to refer to older people with no spouse, family members, or friends to help them with their health primarily as well as other matters such as finances and legal concerns. In the US, about one out of four older people are elder orphans. They are considered a vulnerable population in the sense that, while they function well at a minimum, the slightest hiccup can initiate a chain reaction of negative events.
The number of elder orphans will continue to grow in the coming years. In 2016, almost 15% of women aged 40-44 had not had children. By 2040, childless older people will be at 21%. This is a pressing worry, especially concerning their health, since there are fewer options for their care. Their primary option is to seek outside help from nursing homes, senior living communities, and other similar facilities.
It is in this vulnerable state that direct care workers such as caregivers come into the picture. While providing care for these older people, keep in mind the following concerns.
- Social Isolation
Elder orphans experience chronic loneliness from social isolation, meaning they have few people to talk to and connect with on a daily basis. This affects their health. Studies show they are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease in this population is high, too.
Caregivers must go out of their way to have meaningful conversations with elder orphans and engage them in activities where there is interaction with others. Humor can also find a place in this scenario, since a good laugh releases happy hormones. Take the opportunity during a care procedure to encourage them to tell you about their history, concerns, and feelings.
- Lack of Proper Nutrition and Adequate Hydration
Older people often have difficulty preparing healthy meals because meal preparation and shopping for ingredients has become too difficult and tiring. Without a support system, elder orphans have difficulty meeting their own nutritional needs.
Caregivers can step in and make sure they receive proper nutrition by offering healthy foods and assisting during mealtime. Caregivers can also help them be comfortable and in the mood to eat. Older people may also have problems feeling thirsty even when dehydrated, so offering a glass of water several times a day can help meet their fluid requirements.
- Mobility Problems
One reason elder orphans need help with their health is that they are too weak or sick to move around on their own. Of course, this is also a significant factor in why they became isolated in the first place.
Caregivers can assist these patients to transfer from the bed to the chair or wheelchair, or to walk. Take a stroll with a patient or accompany them in their activities.
- Multiple Health Problems and Chronic Disease
Even a happy, long life takes a toll, and older people are usually battling several diseases at the same time. This poses a special challenge for caregivers who already have a lot on their plates.
Caregivers must strictly perform their duties and stick to the care plan so patients receive the best care possible. Assist patients in taking medication and following dietary and activity restrictions. You can also be their advocate, reporting your observations and patient concerns in a timely manner.
- Lack of Support System
Elder orphans have no next of kin to help with their daily challenges, and their isolation prevents them from accessing community resources. They may not be aware of the resources available to them.
Caregivers can act as their support system, being there for patients when they need to talk. Caregivers can also help these patients get the support they need by connecting them with the right person who can properly assist them.
Caring for elder orphans is a unique challenge, but with the right mindset and a genuine heart to help, you can support them in many wonderful ways. That makes caregivers heroes in this regard!
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