There are nearly 40 million people in America 65 years of age or older, and that number is expected to increase to more than 70 million by 2030 as more Boomers mature. But as these individuals turn 65 a number of changes can be seen between men and women. In part because men still do not have the same life expectancy, fully 40 percent of women are widows. Older men, however, are much more likely to be married than older women by almost a two to one ratio. Fully 72% of men are married or remarried versus only 42% of women. This leaves 8.1 million women living alone and 3.2 million who are singles.
As a geriatric care manager, you can imagine that the numbers mean that a lot of my clients will be single older adults. It also means that a lot of their caregivers may be a bit challenged with how to help their single loved ones cope with a social environment that is different than the one they grew up in as well different from that of the caregiver.
The first concept a caregiver should approach is that of “quality of life.” Older, single loved ones want quality of life just as their younger caregivers do, but it is a different quality of life. If you are a caregiver to an older and single loved one, you might start a conversation with your loved one about that kind of quality of life they want. They may not have put it to words yet, but if you start with the right questions, you will first be able to empathize with their challenges and you second will be able to perhaps help them to find it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that quality of life is a person’s “perception of their position in life.” But their position is culturally defined and is in the context of their personal histories and values. It is about personal goals, expectations, worries and beliefs. It is about how they see their independence and their social or personal relationships. Chances are that your older loved one who may be widowed had a life partner who really understood all that, but you may not as easily grasp when they want to be alone and when they want to be active. Moreover, being active is even subject to differences in interpretation. It is not necessarily about training for a marathon or even going for long walks. It is about being engaged, involved and stimulated.
Now, it gets interesting. As people get older, they may not feel up to what they used to do to be active, activities that you remember your mother or father doing when you were younger. And all of this may be compounded by the losses they have experienced or a real depression. An attentive geriatric care manager or caregiver can listen with an open mind, and doing so will benefit the loved one greatly – just by giving words and ultimately activity to their need for quality of life. And helping your loved one find others of like mind and age in a community setting may be a very positive step forward. But do not be afraid to call upon a professional who can reach your loved one and help translate “where it hurts” to where it helps.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org