The Longevity Curve

Enter The ‘Elder Orphans’

What advisors need to learn about today’s seniors

by Carol Marak

Ms. Marak, a contributing editor to this magazine, is an Aging Advocate, Columnist, and Editor of She’s earned a Certificate in Fundamentals of Gerontology through the University of Southern California, Davis School of Gerontology.

From what I read and hear in advertising, senior service providers and advisors ignore a large segment of the older demographic. It could be that they embrace a common mindset that every older adult is married, with 2.5 children, owns a home and two cars, along with a vacation hideaway.

That could be true for some folks, however, if professionals maintain that presumption they’ll continue to miss close to 30 percent of population who live alone. Now, that’s not to say all 30 percent do not have children; it’s just that the kids often don’t live nearby to be of much assistance.

Just after my parents died, it occurred to me that no one will be there to help with the elder care tasks that I did for my folks. You see, I’m not married, and I have no children, and I live alone. And after reading the medical research about people in my situation, it inspired the launch of the Elder Orphan (medical term) Facebook group.

We discuss the challenges of growing older without the support of nearby family, especially the issues of transportation, affordable housing, paying for healthcare and drugs, and other costly expenses. Since we are 100 percent responsible for paying bills and expenses, our paychecks and retirement income is smaller than households with two people.


The National Council on Aging reports 80 percent of older adults live with one chronic illness,  and  77 percent have two conditions. That’s the total of all seniors, so consider the 30 percent that ive alone and pay for the medical expenses from one pocketbook.

Recently, I read about an insurance that carries a lot of financial help for health care expenses. It’s called critical illness coverage and plays a significant role for folks diagnosed with a severe chronic condition. Patients could receive lump-sum benefits to apply to expenses. A supplemental policy. Critical illness insurance provides a per-day benefit for surgery, a hospital drug benefit, and benefits for other treatments. It could stabilize the financial drain most patients experience and help them avoid lost income.

What are the chances of patients living with one, two, or even four chronic conditions of being diagnosed with a critical illness or experiencing an accident? The numbers aren’t steadily increasing; they’re exploding. These are the types of policies that would help us a great deal.

Long-term care

How many consumers still equate long-term care with a nursing home?  Since that is a place most clients don’t want to live, they believe it’s not necessary and will not buy it. Especially for folks living alone, a provider needs to show us how the policy can help us get help and care at home.

As time moves forward, more people turn 65, and the insurance market will (hopefully) design insurance plans for older adults living with increased diseases. And health care insurance will need to address our challenges with supplemental coverages that deal with aging in place concerns like transportation, isolation, and loneliness.

80 percent of older adults live with one chronic illness,  and  77 percent have two conditions

But before that happens, I encourage senior service professionals to learn how to access the needs of the living alone segment. Once you understand us, we’ll value your services because our safety and independence rely on your advice and assistance.

  • Screen for a client’s status:
  • Do you have a spouse or significant other?
  • Do you have children? Are they nearby?
  • Do you have family members or friends that help you cope with life challenges?
  • Do you have someone to help you make medical decisions?
  • Do you have someone to help with bills, financial decisions
  •  Do you have a health-care proxy or any advance directives?
  • Who is the person you would call upon in an emergency or crisis?
  • Do you have a home health aide to help with personal care such as bathing, dressing, and other activities of daily living?

Help us understand the significance of:

  • Have your legal documents in place. You’ll need a will, a living will, a healthcare proxy and a power of attorney
  • Live close (walking distance) from public transportation
  • Find a person/friend you can rely on for support and care and exchange services.
  • Hire a chronic care advocate if you live with a prolonged medical condition
  • Eat fresh, healthy foods
  • Stay fit
  • Keep your brain sharp by getting involved

Ask if we understand:

  1. Medicare does not pay for long-term custodial care services. The health insurance program only pays for the acute medical care, doctor visits, drugs, and a hospital stays.
  2. Medicaid helps individuals living with low income and assets, and it pays for some of the healthcare expenses. The program works under stringent regulations on who are eligible.
  3. Paying for long-term care is out-of-pocket unless you have a long-term care insurance policy, and pays for long-term supports and services.
  4. Private health insurance policies may cover some types of long-term care.
  5. Disability insurance replaces income and does not include long-term care services and supports. ◊


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