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Abandoned and impoverished elders: A looming crisis in Ecuador and worldwide

By Wendy Jane Carrel

One of the challenges of modern society is that the traditional sense of filial duty seems to be disappearing. Adult children are abandoning elderly parents more than they used to. According to reports, it is happening on everychl guest continent and it is happening with greater frequency as the population of elders continues to grow. It is also happening because in most families, women must now work, and there is no one left at home to take care of parents. The majority of elders do not have enough financial resources to get by on their own or to hire assistance through their senior years.

Note: There are also older adults displaced by natural disasters or war who are part of this scenario, including elder victims of the April 2016 earthquake in Esmeraldas.

How does the Ecuadorian government currently handle its crisis of frail older adults in need of protection? It accompanies abandoned elders to government housing or to non-profit homes usually run by nuns, or missions of brothers, around the country, in Ambato, Cotacachi, Cuenca, Esmeraldas, Ibarra, Manta, Quito, Zamora, Zaruma, and other locations.

Sister Maria Agata Rosa with a client.
Sister Maria Agata Rosa with a resident in Ambato.

In Ambato, at the Hogar de Ancianos Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, sweet Italian nuns of the Sisters of Dorothy offer a most impressive atmosphere for not feeling abandoned. Sor (Sister) Maria Agata Rosa leads a community of men and women on three floors with love and grace. Each senior has a nickname. Many work with Sor Rosa and other nuns in the organic gardens, the kitchen, and laundry room. The residence has its own water source and back-up generator. As you can see from the photo below, the residents are mostly smiling indigenous people.

Caregiver Marleny with rescued senior Luis Ortiz in Ibarra.
Caregiver Marleny with rescued senior Luis Ortiz in Ibarra.

Another photo shows rescued senior Luis Ortiz taken at a clean and efficient government care home in Ibarra, the largest city in the far north, just south of the Colombian border. This precious being told me, unprompted, how grateful he is to have loving care and a roof over his head for his remaining years. It also helps to have an adoring caregiver.

The photos below were taken before the April 2016 earthquake at the Hogar de Ancianos Esposos Bishara, Tachina, outside Esmeraldas city in northwestern Ecuador. The non-profit home is run by a dedicated, in fact extraordinary, order of Italian Catholic brothers from the Cottolengo senior care mission based in Turin, Italy. Most of their charges are Afro-Ecuadorians.

Brother Maurizio wrote that the upstairs residence of the brothers, and, the cement cistern were destroyed by the earthquake. Fortunately, the senior residences, all on one floor (two for the women, one for the men, and one which houses the infirmary) are safe, and new blue plastic cisterns, reinforced for future earthquakes, are in place.

(Article continues below photos.)

Maurizio receiving a lady for the third time!
Brother Maurizio receiving the same lady for the third time in Esmeraldas!
Ms. High Maintenance, an abandoned senior with socio-psychiatric challenges who disappears and returns, is kindly welcomed back after police find her on the streets
Ms. High Maintenance, an abandoned senior with socio-psychiatric challenges who disappears and returns, is kindly welcomed back after police find her on the streets
Abandoned seniors of Esmeraldas on beautiful campus created for them by the Cottolengo Catholic order of Turin, Italy
Abandoned seniors of Esmeraldas on beautiful campus created for them by the Cottolengo Catholic order of Turin, Italy

In Cuenca, a city of more than 500,000 (including thousands of retired expats), the nuns of Hogar Cristo Rey and Hogar Miguel Leon accept destitute seniors for their care. They are mixed with a population of paying seniors. Hogar Cristo Rey has over 100 men and women as residents. Hogar Miguel Leon, which was only for women, now has a few male residents.

One of the extraordinary caregivers at Hogar Miguel Leon is Sor Patricia Rodriguez, who just celebrated her 87th birthday. Read more about her here.

State-of-the-art home for abandoned seniors, Fundacion Santa Ana, outside Cuenca
State-of-the-art home, Fundacion Santa Ana, outside Cuenca

In an unusually grand gesture the Vasquez family of Cuenca, with a little help from MIES government social services, houses up to 88 abandoned seniors in its relatively new state-of-the-art building, Fundacion Santa Ana, in the suburb of Challulabamba. In my research throughout the country, Santa Ana is the only privately built home for abandoned seniors. It is modeled after a senior care property in Murcia, Spain.

What is Ecuador doing to combat this growing future challenge? What are the possible solutions?

The Ecuadorian government MAY require adult children to pay for the care of the parents they abandon.

MIES, the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (government social services), has been working on a proposal to present to parliament. If created and passed, legislation would require the government to charge a fine of $300 U.S. per month to children of older adults found on the streets with neither resources nor care. ($300/month is the average income nationwide, and about what it costs to take care of an elder in a government home).

If you live in Quito and wish to volunteer, there is a day center offering activities, medical assistance, and psycho-social support for abandoned seniors.

Every country does what it can to alleviate the situation of abandoned and destitute elders. Ecuador seems to offer a higher quality of life in its current rescue missions than many other countries. In many ways it is protecting the dignity of dependent poor elders.


Wendy Jane Carrel, M.A., is a bi-lingual North American. She has spent 
over four years traveling province to province in Ecuador, Mexico, and Chile researching senior care options. In her home state of California she served as a Senior Center Director for a city, Head of Information and Outreach for a County Office on Aging, Administrator in Assisted Living (including Alzheimer’s care), and a non-profit communications and grants officer. She offers guidance for Americans and Canadians who wish assistance negotiating health systems, senior care options, end-of-life care, and disposition of remains in Ecuador and Mexico. See or contact her at

7 thoughts on “Abandoned and impoverished elders: A looming crisis in Ecuador and worldwide

  1. Timely article. I have had a discussion on this with friends recently. The conversations about ‘the culture’ of Ecuador and how it is changing just as it is in the USA. (As the article states, this is a worldwide phenomena!) Young people are as different from their grandparents as we were from ours. Change happens.

    1. Yes, LadyMoon, as one who has been here for a long time, I can tell you that the myth gringo expats seem to perpetuate————– that Ecuadorian culture is so wonderful and they take care of their own, especially their elders, is a bunch of bunk.

      My hope is that Cranky Old Charlie will show up to give us his perspective on this because it is always an interesting take. Rumor has it that Charlie predates the mountains here and he claims that the gringo myth has always been bunk, and it isn’t a sudden change that this article speaks of.

      My emissary reported in about last night’s event. She loved it and based on her account, I have some crow to eat which I will do later when I have time.

  2. Jesus said, the poor will be with us always. Maybe the current Jesuit Pope can sell some artwork and help these people. The Jesuits seems to be doing all right.

  3. I’ve recently gone through a time with my Mother, as her ahlzheimers/dementia ravaged her mind. It became obvious that she could no longer live at home(she stopped taking baths, lived on peanut butter toast, etc.). She was on a waiting list at three(3) facilities that deal with this issue. Finally on May 28th she entered a nursing facility for those with memory problems. I now know that she is safe, taking her meds, eating real food; and will live out her natural life in the best manner possible. I totally understand what the article says. I am only glad that I can afford the $7,000. per month care for my Mother. I rest assured that my Mom is in a quality facility with great care, daily. She is in the U.S.

    1. My siblings and I dealt with this “care” issue for over nine years until my mothers passing. Fortunately, she had the funds to cover the $8K/mo. The problem became the actual living in the “facility”. As nice as her apartment was, and as friendly and efficient the staff, she was living with strangers. She was put on a schedule for meals, group activities, exercise, etc., all of which were arranged for her benefit and quality of life. It made perfect sense to us, but not necessarily to her. Then there’s the “turnover”, residents at her dining room table or group activity, that may have been somewhat familiar, pass away and get replaced by more strangers. One of the custodial girls was caught stealing personal property from residents, my mother got “clipped” for her wedding ring. It’s easy to victimize people with memory problems.

      Our first three years was quite a learning experience, we tried three facilities without success. Finally, my sister decided to bring her home and we got her some supplemental home care assistance lighten the burden. This new arrangement was the answer. She didn’t have much “recall” in the tank, but when she did, it was somebody she knew. We would take her grocery shopping and put her in charge of pushing the cart. It was a great way to get her out, get some exercise and stabilize her walking. The family dog became adopted her as his new best friend. We had to start hiding the remote for the TV because she could really get things screwed up. The list of antics goes on and on.

      Bottom line, she was a very happy camper living in a stable environment with people she sometimes recognized and knew loved her. Thankfully, she didn’t like the assisted living facilities because we would have missed so much. Keep’em with you as long as you possibly can.

  4. Yes, Stillwatching, I have been here a while. Over 25 years now, and I admit to being cranky at times. Sometimes it is the things I witness here that makes me that way and often, it is because of the people I observe.

    Obviously, Ecuador doesn’t have a corner on the market of neglect for the elderly, but although that rankles me, the aspect that you point to about the phony self righteous attitude of those that deny it, ticks me off even more. Why the newbie expats seem to swallow that nonsense hook, line and sinker, baffles me. The abuse of women, machista culture with its abandonment of families and this specific issue of the elderly is readily visible to anyone with their eyes open. If you can’t see it, just take a trip down to any of the places mentioned in this article. If you live here in Cuenca, Hogar Cristo Rey and Hogar Miguel Leon will let well intended strangers come in to just keep the elderly residents company on certain days. It is a noble calling and will serve as its own reward. Same thing with the young kids in these institutions. Get off your butts once in a while, even if it’s just once a month, and reach out to some of these people if you have the heart for it.



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