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Lonnette Harrell

Tonight I was doing some research on my article, that I plan to write for Associated Content about the elderly living and dying alone. What I read was so sad, that it had me in tears. Caring for my mom has made me more aware of the plight of the elderly, and how important it is to have an advocate.

Many elderly people in cities, live alone, with their windows sealed or nailed shut because they are so afraid of crime-afraid that someone will break in, and they will be defenseless. So many are poor and sick, hardly able to care for themselves, with no family or friends, and often dealing with some level of confusion or dementia. When the elderly die, they usually die alone, just as they have lived in their later years. Sometimes they die at home alone, and sometimes they die in hospitals, or nursing homes. It is such a tragic end for a person who has given so much of their lifetime to others, and yet, when it is their time to depart, there is no one to be there for them. Many times their bodies are not discovered for a long time, because no one cares, or notices that they are missing.

They are sometimes referred to as “elder orphans.” It is estimated, by Kenneth W. Wachter, Ph. D., Chair of the Department of Demography, at the University of California at Berkeley, that “the number of Americans between the ages of 70 and 85, without a living spouse, without any biological or stepchildren, and without living siblings or half-siblings, will total more than 2 million people by the year 2030.” It is an increasing problem as the Baby Boomers age, due to their low birth rate, and their longer lifespan. After age 80, Alzheimer’s  disease increases to between 22% and 40%. This cognitive impairment, leads to the elderly without family, being unable to care for themselves properly.

There is so much isolation in today’s society. In a 2004 issue of Geriatric Times, Bruce G. Rosenthal, of the American Homes and Services for the Aging, commented, “As many as 60% of nursing home residents have no regular visitors.” In times past, the elderly were part of an extended family, with children or grandchildren nearby, who would assist them in their later years. But with families living all over the globe, there is often not a relative close by, or more often, one who is willing to take on the burden of an aging parent. Many older people express a desire to remain independent for as long as possible, so that they can continue with their daily living patterns, and retain their privacy and dignity. But the ravages of aging often prevent them from being well enough to live alone.

The death of a spouse can bring on a feeling of helplessness and overwhelming loneliness. Some elderly widow or widowers depended on their loved one to be their caregiver, and to do many of the daily tasks of living. They are left, not knowing how to manage on their own, due to sickness and frailty.

Many older people have experienced multiple bereavements as well. Those with dementia or cognitive impairment can’t manage the grief process as a healthy person would. They may even forget their loved ones are gone, and wake up each day searching for them. Even for the elderly with good mental function, often clinical depression sets in, and there is insomnia, weight loss, poor nutrition, and withdrawal. They don’t usually ask for help, or reach out to others.

It makes me angry that older people are in such horrible situations. All my life, I have loved the elderly. Perhaps it is because I was raised by by grandparents (alongside my mom) until I was 7. But now that I am caring for my mom, who is widowed, aging, and very ill, I can’t imagine her having to face her situation alone. And I wonder how many people there are like her, or even worse off , who are lonely and have no one…



  1. Wow – great blog! I am a journalist in Texas and I recently wrote a column about loneliness in the elderly called “Forgotten.” It is on my website, the second one down. Thank you for raising awareness on this important issue. G.L.

  2. Better way to find my column – it’s gotten great response:

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