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'Elder Orphans' Facebook Group Creates Community For Adults Aging Alone09:48Download

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The elder orphans Facebook group has gained 5,000 users since it began last year. Pictured: Mary Devlin uses a laptop computer on Nov. 1, 2007 in London. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
The elder orphans Facebook group has gained 5,000 users since it began last year. Pictured: Mary Devlin uses a laptop computer on Nov. 1, 2007 in London. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Are you an "elder orphan?" Also called unbefriended adults, they are people aging alone, without kids.

But now, they have a Facebook group with about 5,000 users since it began last year. You have to be 55 or over, live without a spouse and not have children. Or, if you do, they have to either be estranged or live far away.

Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with the founder of the Facebook group for elder orphans, Carol Marak (@Carebuzz), who's also a columnist and editor at SeniorCare.com.

Interview Highlights

On her experience with elder orphans

"It kind of hit me over the head. It was like, 'Oh my gosh.' My parents demanded quite a bit of care, and my sisters and I provided that for them, and once they passed on, I realized, 'Oh my goodness, all that time, effort and resources it took from us, who will do that for me?'"

On the Facebook group she started

"Well, first off, most of the members are very grateful to have found us, and realize that there are so many more like them, and we all share the same grievances, the same hardships and challenges. And so, we all visit it, most of the time every day, just checking in. We give support to people who are going into surgery or who have had an emergency or some sort of medical event, and I cannot tell you how supportive that feels for the people who are going through an incident like that."

On elder orphans not being able to rely on children as caregivers

"What's remarkable, just recently, one of my members here that lives in Dallas, she just had hip surgery, and you know, she didn't have any visitors. A friend or two stopped by, but no one to check on her at home, except her brother, who occasionally did that. So, it is a growing problem."

On the health care system's assumption of family support

"That's what happened to this one individual here in Dallas. She couldn't find someone — as a matter of fact, when she was preparing for the surgery and she was talking with her physician's office, they didn't even ask, 'Do you have someone who can help you at home?'"

"What's so wonderful is that when you start a discussion, you're always going to have someone participate."

Carol Marak

On advice for those aging alone

"Just recently, I moved from suburbia into a highly urban area, where there is a metro, you know, transportation, buses, public transit. I'm also very healthy fortunately, but I do walk. I run my errands via foot, so I kind of kill two birds with one stone there, stay fit and run errands. And I live in a high-rise, because I want to surround myself with other people. I don't want to live in a home, isolated. So, we have to think about those things, how do we plan for aging alone."

On maintaining a social network while aging

"I would suggest, first off, just reaching out to the local area agencies on aging. Then, I would also reach out to senior centers. Just go where seniors hang out."

On adopting a family

"Well, I mean, think about it. How many families are maybe without an older individual, or maybe they've lost their parents or they've lost their grandmother? Of course, it requires a lot of forethought, and even some help with legal matters, but I think it's an option."

On renting rooms to elder orphans and others

"It's happening a lot. Let's say, for example, I have a large home in suburbia. I can either rent out a bedroom to a college student, for example, and in return maybe not charge them rent, but in return, maybe that they would run errands for me. I could even rent out a room to another person my own age."

On pooling resources

"Yes, that's happening in the co-housing communities, where it's intentional communities that are being built, with everyone having their own homes, potentially, or maybe a high-rise and they have their own spaces. But they do provide a separate space for a caregiver free of charge, so that caregiver can then take care of them."

On other things to consider

"Make sure that you know that you stay fit, and eat healthy food, that you do not isolate, that you do have companionship, that you reach out to the community and possibly volunteer to help another person, have purpose in your life."

On what happens in the Facebook group

"[People are] mostly just sharing what they're feeling each day. We discuss transportation options, emotional things that might be affecting us, how are we feeling about not having children — although most of us are grateful to not have children, because we have members who have been really estranged from their families, which is hard. So, it's just a great place to come and feel accepted, and find friendship and connection. What's so wonderful is that when you start a discussion, you're always going to have someone participate. And you can also pull it offline if you wish, and private message someone, and then take it from there. Many of us are breaking off and starting our own face-to-face groups, which is really, I think, the next step for all of us."

This segment aired on August 15, 2017.

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