A different kind of lonely

We women need to prepare for a life in our older years that may be lonelier than we expect. Not
Opinion

We women need to prepare for a life in our older years that may be lonelier than we expect. Not because we don’t have a life partner but because that life partner may not be able to share the future we planned together.

Most of us are living longer than any of our forebears who might have reached beyond the biblical three score and ten. So we may reasonably expect our partner, and I’m talking male here, to live on into old age with us.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released some information about this in November last year, saying life expectancy and death numbers hit historic highs in 2014. Aussie males and females born today have the highest estimated life expectancy ever recorded in Australia.

“There are only six other countries worldwide where both men and women have a life expectancy over 80 years,” says Beidar Cho from the ABS. “These countries are Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland, Israel and Sweden.”

In fact in Australia, in 2014 male life expectancy at birth rose to 80.3 years and female life expectancy also increased, to 84.4 years.

It’s a commonplace that women outlive men, but it seems to me that we women are also healthier than our elderly counterparts. Dry statistics don’t reveal quality of life, and it’s a sad fact of life that the health of many men does not enhance their life as it should.

In my immediate circle are women whose husbands are incapacitated by a stroke, by Alzheimers, by cancer of different kinds. It’s devastating for the men themselves whose quality of life is severely limited and if they are lucky they have a wife or partner who is able to take care of them. For these women, quality of life is similarly restricted.

Many families spend decades looking after a child whose disabilities take constant care; one can only have admiration for the love and dedication of those parents. For the wife whose husband is, gradually or suddenly, someone to be cared for and to be monitored every hour of every day, it is similar to a death in the family. It is the same of course for the husband whose wife is abruptly a patient in the home but it’s usually the women who are the carers because the men pay the price for not looking after their health as they should.

A form of grieving takes place I believe, as it can be overwhelming to realise the trip around Australia won’t happen, the overseas trips long planned can be forgotten, the outings and the entertainment that retirement allows—all replaced by a daily round of housebound activities with a partner who may gradually forget who you are, and who can lose all sense of self.

The ‘fortunate’ wife is one whose husband is merely physically ill; if mental faculties are intact then for the couple there can be an ongoing relationship. Where dementia or Alzheimers is present, the healthy spouse can become very isolated. With the best will in the world, other family and friends can’t really help when the wife’s absence causes distress to the failing husband.

So, as I said at the start, we women need to prepare for a life in our older years that may be lonelier than we expect.

How have you coped with an ailing husband – or wife? Any suggestions for those new to this kind of challenge?

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