Hank is one of 11 million Americans who lives alone, without family or friends nearby. He lost his wife, is estranged from his daughter, and lives more than 1,000 miles away from his son. He is lonely and scared of dying alone, so he did the only logical thing he could think of to make his situation better-he decided to put himself up for adoption.
Physically and financially, Hank is doing fine. He still drives, does his own shopping and cooking, and has a pension that’s enough to pay for his apartment. He is just desperate for company.
Hank searched online and found “Adopt-a-Senior” programs. One such program is the H. B. Barnum’s Adopt-A-Senior program, an organization that was founded by H. B. Barnum to provide nutritious meals and musical entertainment to senior citizens who are lonely and/or isolated. It’s not exactly like being adopted by a loving family, but it does help alleviate some of the loneliness some seniors experience. The mission of the Adopt-A-Senior program is to provide nutritious meals, love, caring, and joy for elders in need. Right now, the program is only in Southern California, but there are similar programs throughout the United States.
Here are some other programs that are designed to help bring companionship to lonely seniors. Not all of them are close-by, but they provide an example of what’s out there:
–Friendly Visitor in Montgomery County, Maryland, recruits and trains volunteers who visit lonely, isolated and homebound seniors for at least one hour per week.
– Adopt-a-Senior in New Jersey provides hand-delivered gifts and visits to seniors in long-term care facilities, so they are not forgotten.
– The National Exchange Club runs an Adopt-a-Grandparent program, where young people build lasting friendships with seniors through monthly visits to care facilities (clubs nationwide).
-To end loneliness in the lives of seniors, one senior at a time, Friend to Friend America recruits and trains volunteers in the community to visit lonely and isolated seniors.
-Because the issue of social isolation is so complex, AARP Foundation spearheaded Connect2Affect to seek out solutions. Type in your zip code on the Connect2Affect Website to find resources near you.
Advice for “Elder Orphans”
Carol Marak (@carebuzz) coined the term, “Elder Orphan”, for seniors who age alone without friends or children. She created a Facebook group for “Elder Orphans” 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. She gives advice, as follows:
-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 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.”
Interview source: Here & Now
If You Love Your Family, Visit Them!
Many older adults, similar to Hank in our example, are living alone, lacking contact, and suffering from social isolation. Others may be married but have left the workforce, have close, long-time friends who have moved or gotten sick, act as a family caregiver or they or a spouse have mobility or cognitive issues. Loneliness is serious. In fact, research studies reveal that lacking social connections can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day! Read our article on the subject for more details!
While loneliness is on the rise, it does not have to be permanent. Call or visit your mother this Mother’s Day! Help a lonely senior identify support programs, senior communities, and/or church-related offerings, and see if any of them offer opportunities to meet other people. And, if you can’t be there, a pet could be a great way to soothe an older adult who is anxious or lonely.
When you visit someone who doesn’t get regular visitors (even when he or she has Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia) you may have impacted that person in a major way, especially if he or she is lonely and/or feeling isolated or depressed. The feelings you create by showing you care can change how he or she interacts with others and improve his or her mood. Remember, the benefit of your visit (or a call, if you cannot visit) will likely last, so call and visit senior loved ones whenever you can.
This article was written by Evan H. Farr, CELA, and was originally published on the Farr Law Firm’s Blog at