Finally a mainstream publication recognizes that many in the aging population don’t have “the family” to care for them. It’s worth reading here.
It’s positioned in an upbeat way, suggesting that you can take control of your life in these circumstances.
Like most journalists, the author chooses the condescending term “elder orphans,” implying that those aging alone are helpless victims. The terms also invokes a touch of insulting humor, with the contrast of “elder” and “orphan.” An orphan is someone who has lost both parents.
Applied to any adult, the term seems irrelevant. It’s the absence of children and spouses that leaves the aging person with no source of help, yet exposed to considerable abuse, including abuse from mainstream medical professionals.
Additionally, the story ignores reality. It very difficult to find a proxy who’s willing to step up and who’s reliable, especially if you’re a “pull the plug” kind of person.
And it’s not that easy to stay connected. Age discrimination is social as well as economic. The elderly are considered irrelevant in our society.
But at least we are acknowledging that there IS a problem. That’s a good first step. Now we need to hear from more people who fear this situation.
WSJ – April 22nd – A woman writes that her daughter is receiving her doctoral degree on the same day her son is getting married. Read the article here. They set the wedding date before they knew the exact date of “her event.” The daughter wasn’t consulted. And to add insult to injury, her role in the wedding involves tending the guest book.
Sue Shellenbarger, who has the job I’d love in my next life – writing about careers and family – consulted a family therapist and a wedding etiquette expert.
The etiquette expert says, essentially, let her vent and then “give her a hug and ask her what she thinks you should do. She may by this point be able to see that the wedding should go on as planned. If not, give her time.”
The expert does admit that “close siblings usually receive a bigger honor than tending the guest book.” (more…)
In an article about seniors who show up malnourished in emergency rooms, NYT author Judith Graham suggests social isolation might be a factor.
“Who likes to eat alone?” she asks rhetorically.
More and more of us live in one-person households by choice. Some people like to eat alone and it’s time everyone realized that’s a perfectly appropriate choice to make.
If a room is filled with noisy conversation I won’t eat, period. Stress isn’t good for digestion and anyway I want to enjoy my food.
When you like living alone (and census data shows more and more of us do), you obviously like eating alone. We don’t need stigmatizing comments or rhetorical questions with an agenda.
Single people die younger. According to this article, the difference might be due to a spouse who nags you to eat better or see a doctor. I think it’s also likely that you’ll get better care from doctors when a family member can advocate for you. Read the article here.
And here’s another article about positive effects of marriage on men’s health. Click here.
One thing that gets ignored is the way the health care system views single versus married people. It’s assumed that you’ll have a family member pick you up after outpatient surgery. The Family Medical Leave provides only for care of a parent, spouse or child – not even a brother or niece, let alone a friend. People can’t get off work to drive a friend home from the hospital, especially in the middle of the day with short notice. Additionally, we keep hearing that it’s important to have family members with you if you’re in a hospital; otherwise you’re far more subject to medical errors, neglect and even outright abuse.
Some people genuinely enjoy their own solitude and single status. In terms of aging, that’s a plus, because we’re more independent and less likely to mourn. But getting care becomes a massive invasion of privacy, with limited options for support.
Recently I came across this article, allegedly reporting that being married confers health benefits: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/274828
Here’s my comment:
Being happily single and disgustingly healthy, I had a few concerns about this article.
Bella DePaulo’s book, Singled Out, provides a rigorous discussion of flaws in research comparing single and married people. For instance, often researchers lump together the “never-married,” divorced and widowed, without controlling for recency of divorce or widowhood. Those who never married actually have an advantage as they age because they are used to being alone.
As for cancer patients living longer, I’d want to know, “Are these people holding on longer, even living in pain, because they’re waiting to see a grandchild get married or graduate from college? Are their spouses and children reluctant to turn off life support, as compared to the more distantly related proxies of single people?”
Rather than emphasize the health benefits of marriage (which aren’t entirely clear), I’d like to see some focus on how the medical community treats married vs single people. Many singles find that getting an “approved” ride home from out-patient surgery has been so stressful, I will avoid having elective procedures that require a ride from a responsible adult. A woman with a tall husband or son at her side will be treated far more courteously than a single woman who shows up alone. There’s nothing wrong with solitary life (see Anthony Storr’s classic book, Solitude), yet the system discriminates against them. I’m pretty social, but if I choose to be a curmudgeonly hermit, why should I be denied access to quality health care? That’s the *real* question.
One of the comments suggested that single people had “less to live for” than married people. Don’t you just love it? What net …. disabled people? older people? people without dogs?
I suspect single people put off doctor visits because doctors tend to be rude and patronizing when talking to single people. When I told one doctor I didn’t have kids, she said smugly, “Oh, so you don’t like youngsters?” Single people tend to have more complicated answers to questions about our personal and intimate lives, and most of these questions aren’t essential to our well-being.
Medical settings are set up for families. In a shared hospital room, a single person who’s used to living alone in a quiet space will suffer the noise of a roommate’s extended family. The spouse will go to the nurse’s station and demand attention. Single people will be treated rudely or even ignored.
Waiting rooms have loud TV sets to accommodate children. Families rarely mute their for even the most personal conversations. I now refuse blood pressure tests after exposure to these stressful settings.
So I’m not surprised that cancers are diagnosed at later stages. I suspect many single people would rather face death than the series of frustrating, insulting encounters with doctors for “treatment.” We also know that we won’t survive long in nursing homes or other facilities without someone to act as out advocate.
Forget those ideas about hounding singles to go for preventive tests and set up some ‘single-friendly” medical facilities. And read Bella DePaolo’s book, Singled Out.