Tag Archives: Older women living alone and health

Only Child and Senior Loneliness

Only Child's Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

Only Child’s Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

When my father died from brain cancer at 66, life turned all downhill for my mother. She had lost her husband of many years and had to go it alone. This was the mid-1960s so changes for women were just getting started. And although my mother had me, I was a teenager and really not much help for mom’s loneliness and her health, which after Dad’s death went from good to worse than bad.

First, it was her arthritis in her hands and feet, which landed her in the hospital for tests, disfigured her hands (rheumatoid arthritis) and damaged her feet to the point of what resembled wounds. I remember coming home from business school and finding her sitting in the living-room, one foot bandaged and propped up on a footstool. Her two visitors were not friends, but the managers at the insurance company where she had started to work when Dad died. They were not there to offer her support, but to try and convince her to quit her job which she was having difficulty doing. She had gone from typist to proof reader because of her fingers.

Fortunately I was able to get a job as a secretary later that year and help Mom with expenses, including doing the actual grocery shopping. But Mom’s health continued to deteriorate. She also had scleroderma, which gave her puffy cheeks and changed her voice to almost a squeak. She died at age 63. Official cause was a brain aneurysm but really the arthritis killed her. Because of the arthritis she fell off her vanity bench which gave her a never-ending headache. She figured she needed her eyes tested and had booked an appointment for an eye test but never made it as she went into a coma and died in hospital.

I have passed both my parents’ ages of death and have mixed feelings about it.  Although I may have escaped some of the medical conditions of my parents (although I do have arthritis – in my neck and bunions and the like on my feet), I still feel very wary going through the rest of my life. Yes, I have had my own medical issues to deal with, but I’m learning that there are two factors that make life very hard to deal with for a senior – living alone and being poor.

I have covered the being poor before, but living alone to my mind, is not the best scenario for a senior and happiness. Apparently, some studies are showing otherwise. See Loneliness among the elderly  where  surprisingly the majority of lonely seniors are married or living with a partner.  But my many years living alone have proven otherwise. Living alone means not having someone there to help you, to support you, provide companionship, and help you deal with all the crap life shoves at you. I realize that not all duos are good – some are abusive; some provide no support.

However, when I observe my friends who have partners of some sort, I see a plus. Sure, they have problems, health, maybe financial, etc. But they seem more positive, have that support (and some even say that) and are happier – the latter just radiates from them. My take here is if you have a good partner, you can deal with life better.

Partners can mean many things from the traditional marriage, to living common-law, to not living together all the time (i.e., maintaining separate homes for whatever reason – often financial – pension laws you know).

One friend who used to live in my neighbourhood had a long-term relationship with a fellow. Their relationship and its setup worked worked very well for them. Both lived in separate houses – in fact he lived just outside Toronto. But they spent weekends together at her place and travelled together. Sure they argued and had differences of opinions – most couples do. But they were supportive of each other, not only with health issues but house issues. And boy, my friend had a doozie when her mean next door neighbour shovelled snow from his driveway onto her gas meter and the entrance for the gas into her house – the latter was blocked and she got gas fumes in her house. She phoned both her partner and me. Both came over here. He got on the phone to the gas company and organized everything there. I insisted she stay overnight with me, but in the meantime she went back home (outside) to supervise the gas company arriving. Her partner and I had another thing to do for her – get some important legal papers off to Fed Ex before they closed to meet a deadline for her.

True, yours truly had some part in this. But consider the scenario without her partner. And remember I don’t drive.

My friend’s situation does not have a happy ending. Her partner was diagnosed with brain cancer and died shortly afterwards. Yes, she was there with him, but has been alone since then.

I have to deal with the crap in my life alone. My son does help where he can but he has his own life. I also have no brothers or sisters.

So, some statistics be damned, I still say a senior living alone is not the happiest and healthiest. Read 10 Dangers of Seniors Living Alone. And I have only covered the tip of that iceberg.

What do you think? I’d like to hear from seniors living alone and seniors with partners. I won’t bite, whatever you say.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child and her parents in another time and world

Only Child and her parents in another time and world

 

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Filed under Aloneness, Happiness, Health Seniors, Life demands, Living alone, Mom and Dad, Mother dying, Older Women living alone and health, Only child, Seniors and Happiness

Only Child on health of women living alone

Only Child and her parents when they were still alive and together

It is happening frequently. I find yet another woman, 60 and over, living alone who has escalating health issues. Last week, it was a writing colleague just diagnosed with Diabetes 2. She’s had some scary “nearly dying” experiences. Another writing colleague has food allergies and a thyroid condition.  Yet another has thyroid and eye problems. Still another has had many eye problems. Then there is my friend with the back problem who was mentioned in a recent post. And me –maybe I have some nerve complaining of my health issues compared to what other women have to contend with. For what it’s worth I have a lot of foot problems, IBS, osteoarthritis, and allergies. Mind you I’ve had the allergies for over 20 years, so that isn’t a seniors’ health issue.

These women and their health issues are only the tipping point of the list.

Does something about older women living alone bring on these health problems? Is it hereditary? Is it age?

All of the above, I think. I also believe that living alone can aggravate these conditions. When you have to cope alone and there is no one to lean on/to give support, the coping mechanisms go down, down, down. The “hope factor” also can take a big dive.

In the journal article “Perceptions of Living Alone Among Older Women” written by Elaine M. Eshbaugh of the University of Northern Iowa, 30  per cent of the women interviewed (there were only 53, so not a wide variety)  were afraid of falling or getting hurt. Eshbaugh also cites previous studies which found a couple of horrors – older women living alone are more likely to suffer from falls and other injuries, infections, and dehydration. When the medical services finally arrive they often find the women already dead. It’s not a case of who you going to call but who is going to call?  The article also cites a study of a group of older women with deteriorating health who lived alone in Baltimore. These women’s health became worse than their counterparts who lived with someone. The article was published in the Journal of Community Health Nursing in 2008 and can be viewed online at http://www.uni.edu/csbs/sites/default/files/u27/perceptions%20of%20living%20alone.pdf and also goes into the cultural aspects of why more women live alone now than in the past.

I find it interesting that the article’s title uses the word “perceptions.” This conjures up more questions: how much of ill health is related to our perception? If we always had a positive attitude about our health would that keep the health and injury issues away? Remember the 1960 movie Pollyanna starring Hayley Mills? Pollyanna fell when climbing down a tree and became paralyzed. But…Pollyanna had close family and friends (including the stern aunt she lived with) for support. Maybe “support” is the crucial factor. “Support” as in living with someone who is at least there if you fall, have a heart attack or suffer the side effects of chemo treatment for cancer. Just someone for the moral support can lessen the worry burden of going through the illness journey alone, although if my late mother were still alive she might disagree. After Dad died, Mom’s health deteriorated – arthritis and scleroderma appeared – she landed in the hospital several times, had to quit her job and was constantly in a negative complaining state. I lived with her and while I listened, I was in my late teens and early 20s, and definitely not my father. Or maybe after years of dealing with Dad’s cancer and other illnesses, once he was gone, she just gave up.

I’m also not sure my yo-yo attitude is the right one. I jump from worrying about the current health issue flaring up to being defiant. I will go for my walks and garden despite my foot problems. I will eat well and healthy despite my food allergies…but I am persistent in making sure I don’t get what I can’t eat when dining out. I’ve come a long way from when first diagnosed and I attended a meeting of volunteers. The only snacks available were baked goods (I’m allergic to wheat, barley and rye for starters). I remember the hostess, an elderly woman who lived alone, asking me “Well, what can you eat?” I’m not sure if her living alone is connected in any way to her take on food allergies. But this was 22 years ago when food allergies weren’t all that well known. However, today, despite all the publicity and change in gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. food available, there are still some people, particularly in the restaurant business, who are clueless. I won’t eat in some restaurants because of this attitude. Thank goodness many restaurants do go that extra mile to make sure that I, and others like me, don’t eat something that will make us sick or in some cases, kill us, especially if we live alone. We might not make it to the phone to call 911.

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it is partly something I mentioned in an earlier post. We need to connect more with our friends, particularly the older women living alone, to make sure they are all right. I’ve been guilty of not doing this because of the time factor. Perhaps this whole issue needs a slight switch in mindset – both on the part of the women living alone, their friends and family and yes the healthcare systems. Dumping sick and old women in a nursing home isn’t always the answer, although sometimes it is necessary, unfortunately.

I’m also wondering if in finding keys to living longer, we (the collective “we”) have not made it more difficult in some ways for older women living alone to enjoy life as much as possible.

Comments?

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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