The Aging of Orange County

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Housing & Poverty

The High Price of Loneliness

"Alone but not lonely" is a familiar phrase conveying the power of independence. And for many of the one in three seniors who live alone in Orange County, this statement expresses the range of choices afforded to a healthy and vibrant generation of older adults.

However, for older adults who are vulnerable to poverty, hunger or failing health, living alone can open up a world of unwelcome possibilities.

The High Price of LonelinessFirst, dwindling, meaningful exchanges can lead to isolation and depression. Like all of us, older adults fare much better when connected to friends, family and activities. This, however, can be a formidable challenge in Orange County, when children and grandchildren often flee the area due to the high cost of housing. Nearly 82,000 seniors age 65 and over live alone in Orange County, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. Vulnerable older adults can become isolated easily, placing them at risk on a number of fronts, including health issues, fraud and abuse.

Suicide is a problem among the older population, "warned Lisa Wright Jenkins of the Council on Aging – Orange County. Without people to help seniors adapt as their lives change, they don’t feel like they have a way out."

Second, one in five seniors barely scrapes by at the poverty line, according to the California Poverty Measure. Although Orange County leads the United States on many fronts, this is an example where leadership is needed in our community. It should alarm us all that Orange County’s poverty rate among older adults is four times that of the national average.

Third, the Orange County disparity continues in housing. Seventy-nine percent of older adults own homes here, yet 69 percent of the adults who receive rental assistance from the OC Housing Authority are seniors and disabled. Within the distance that one of our county’s star athletes could throw a baseball, one senior lives in a million-dollar home, while another goes to bed every night wondering if he or she will have money for food or next month’s rent.