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'Elder Orphans' On Rise As Chicagoans Age, Live Alone, Report Says

By Alisa Hauser | October 20, 2016 6:16am | Updated on October 21, 2016 11:48am
 More baby boomers and the generations after them will be aging solo, according to U.S. Census data. An Elder Orphan Facebook Group aims to address the needs of this population.
More baby boomers and the generations after them will be aging solo, according to U.S. Census data. An Elder Orphan Facebook Group aims to address the needs of this population.
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CHICAGO — A report using U.S. census data from 8,000 cities shows that almost one-third of senior citizens in Chicago are living alone without the company of a spouse or assistance from adult children — and that number is expected to increase as more baby boomers age.

Defined as adults older than 65 who do not have a spouse, children or support from their adult children and are "aging solo," elder orphans make up 32 percent of Chicago's seniors — higher than other cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix, where 31, 25 and 28 percent of seniors live alone, respectively.

Carol Marak, an advocate for seniors, columnist and editor based in Waco, Texas, said elder orphans represent more than 25 percent of the growing senior population nationwide. This statistic was compiled by Seniorcare.com after analyzing Census data in 8,000 cities, she said.

Seniorcare's Chicago senior statistics report includes data on Chicago's health care ranking, housing, long-term care, Medicare costs and other issues.

Marak is one of four administrators of an "Elder Orphan Facebook Group," which has almost 3,500 members from across the country and several in Chicago.

An online webinar and conference call talk for elder orphans was held Wednesday afternoon. The featured webinar speaker, Dr. Maria Carney, is a geriatric and palliative care physician whose research inspired the term elder orphan, Marak said.

Joyce Aldawood, a 68-year-old North Side resident, said she joined the Elder Orphan Facebook Group earlier this month.

"When you belong to something on the fringe, you think you are the only one. I do not have any kids, and my parents are dead, and my brother and I don't speak. For me, it's a group that resonates," Aldawood said.

Aldawood, who works as an operations manager for a jewelry store, has married three times and been divorced since 1991.

"I'm like Elizabeth Taylor, I keep on trying to get it right," Aldawood joked.

Ivse Sako, a 51-year-old Edgewater resident, said the Facebook group has helped her feel more connected to others in a similar life stage.

"It's heartbreaking, but what can we do? We need to connect," Sako said.

Sako works from home as an organizational coach.

She said she keeps herself busy and "has no energy for dating."

"One or two, or five or six years go by, and you think maybe it's not meant to be. You can't keep wishing for" a relationship, she said.

Sako has no brothers or sisters and is the mother of an adult daughter who she said she does not see often. Sako moved from Lithuania to Chicago several years ago as a single mom.

"This life in America is different. People go to the jobs, move away. You can't depend on your family. It's very separate. When you feel lonely, there are holidays, there are the Sundays. Every article you read is family first, family balance, and it is a sharp knife in your heart," Sako said.

In addition to baby boomers aging alone, in the next generation, more people will be aging alone.

A third of Americans ages 45-63 are single — an increase of 50 percent since 1980 — and almost 19 percent of women ages 40 to 44 are childless, compared to about 10 percent in 1980, according to U.S. Census data quoted in a presentation by Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y., the Tribune reported.

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