The everyday life of women ages 85 and older living alone in their own residences who receive help

Date
2008-12
Authors
Hahn, Karen
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Abstract

This ethnographic study explored the everyday life of women 85 and older living alone in their own residences with physical limitations who receive help. Integrating the perspectives of the women with those of interdisciplinary health professionals found a picture of everyday life highlighting management, functional, and transcendent spiritual dimensions rather than the frailty construct more commonly used by health professionals.

Four urban women ages 86-92 of African-American, Cuban-American, and European American ethnicity were visited in their own residences for five months. Two of the respondents lived in homes they had owned for 30+ years and two in subsidized senior housing apartments.

Participant observation and semi-structured interview sessions were conducted during home visits and phone calls. Spradley's systematic method was used to gather and analyze the data. The cultural theme which described their everyday life was managing the business of daily living.

The theme "managing the business of' summarizes the everyday life experience of these women, filled with the multiple responsibilities of caring for themselves, maintaining a household, tending to important relationships, and preserving autonomy within the reality of physical vulnerability.

None of these women described themselves as frail. "Living alone" was used by these women in reference to the experience of inadequate support rather than a living arrangement. The autonomy of staying in one's own place was more important than living longer or staying in the family homestead. Help was described as a mutual exchange of services rather than receiving help.

The belief that "God takes care of me" supported them in caring for themselves and others. They were committed to doing what they saw as necessary to stay in their own place. Relationships with God and family were most important to them. Staying actively connected with family and friends, contributing to their communities, and leaving a legacy were also important. Respecting and receiving the wisdom of those who live long and well can help society plan for healthy aging for all.

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Keywords
Health and environmental sciences, Social sciences, Community-dwelling older adults, Living alone, Older women
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