Why a blog on living alone in older age

March 18, 2011 § 5 Comments

I have often asked myself, “Why am I so interested in older adults living alone?”

The highs and lows of living alone for 16 years have shaped me in unimaginable ways. I enjoyed drifting away from loved ones, days and weeks passing by without seeing anyone. In 2001 I spent the entire winter holidays without seeing a soul in my apartment in London, celebrating Christmas and New Year alone, something very unusual for a 32-year old Italian with an active social network. My Godmother Ninni (the woman in the picture on the link page) had a similar inclination.  She found refuge in her own apartment overlooking the Mediterranean. Into her 80s, she doggedly refused home care aides until a stroke immobilized the left part of her body and forced her to move into a nursing home, where she died.

Crises baffled me. The unexpected loss of a job triggered anxiety attacks at the crack of dawn when I raked my brain trying to figure out how to avoid overdraft fees, tame a mounting credit card debt, and pay rent and bills on time. Another time, because I had a deep cut on the left hand that would have required some stitches (I avoided the hospital like the plague), I let dirty dishes pile up in the sink.  Taking a shower or boiling an egg became a major endeavor. My acrobatics reminded me of one of the several accidents my grandmother had in her 80s when living alone in Italy. After loosing balance after dinner, she lay on the kitchen floor for hours, terrified of spending the night glued to the cold tiles by her weight. Her pale blue eyes lit up when she told me that the invocations to her Saints miraculously propelled her to reach the phone string dangling from the table above her nose. 

Starting in 2003, as a graduate student in public health and business administration, my study of alternatives to nursing home allowed me to get to know older adults who attended adult day centers, but mostly lived alone too. Their stories gradually shifted my attention from the best practices in long term care to the universe of living alone in older age. The stories I heard were full of struggles with reverse mortgages, credit card debts, isolation, depression, and lack of energy. At the same time I learned about the rising demographic trend of solo living and investigated the literature on the hardships of living alone in older age in the United States (Gurley, et al. 1996;Klinenberg 2002;Rubinstein, Kilbride and Nagy 1992). I realized that Ninni’s and my grandmother’s experience, as well as my first informants’ stories were just a tip of the iceberg of a much wider trend. I wanted to expand the general body of knowledge about living alone in older age.  

This blog is my way to share news and thoughts about the universe of living alone in older age, and to gather ideas for my research.

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