As sin­gles grow older, prospect of de­clin­ing health can pro­voke fears

The Borneo Post - Nature and health - - Wellness - By Steven Petrow

NOT LONG be­fore I turned 60, my hus­band and I split up, and a health con­cern that I’d never re­ally wor­ried about jumped out at me: What would I do, now alone, if I be­came se­ri­ously ill? More and more of us are con­fronting this prob­lem, es­pe­cially as we slide - or stum­ble - from midlife to old age. Ac­cord­ing to the US Cen­sus Bureau, the age­ing co­hort (those older than 65) is ex­pected to reach 78 million by 2035, or more than 20 per cent of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion. Sheila Warnock, co-au­thor of “Share the Care: How to Or­ga­nize a Group to Care for Some­one Who Is Se­ri­ously Ill,” added: “A lot of older peo­ple are liv­ing alone, and that’s a big is­sue . . . in par­tic­u­lar for women who are more likely to be wid­owed, di­vorced or sin­gle.”

Shortly af­ter my sep­a­ra­tion came my trial run: A thy­roid ul­tra­sound ini­tially ap­peared to show a ma­lig­nancy that was soon de­clared nor­mal. In the two dark days of wait­ing, I won­dered: Who will take care of me? Whose shoul­der will I cry on? Who will drive me to the doctor? Who? Who? Who? Lynn Fein­berg, a pol­icy ad­viser at AARP’s Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute, said that the per­son usu­ally re­lied on in this type of sit­u­a­tion “would typ­i­cally be a spouse or part­ner.” Scratch that.

Fein­berg, 67 and a widow of 10 years, gave a sober­ing take on the ques­tion “Who will be tak­ing care of our gen­er­a­tion of older peo­ple?” She points out that 25 per cent of adults 25 and older have never mar­ried. There’s greater child­less­ness than ever. We’re liv­ing longer than ever - hur­rah! - but she’s aware that the di­a­betes epi­demic and heart dis­ease may mean that our chil­dren have shorter life spans than we do. “There’s also more divorce among peo­ple age 50 and over, dou­bling since the 1990s,” Fein­berg noted. For those who do have kids, she says, the younger gen­er­a­tion is more likely than not to live in an­other time zone.

So who would be my des­ig­nated driver and com­pan­ion? I re­called the hu­mil­i­a­tion of com­ing out of se­da­tion af­ter my first colonoscopy, a decade ear­lier, ask­ing my then-hus­band 100 times in 10 min­utes: “What time is it?” (Anaes­the­sia im­pairs mem­ory, and my mind was a sieve for sev­eral hours.) Oh, and you have to “pass wind” be­fore they will let you leave. Of course, that’s what a spouse or part­ner is for. I sched­uled, can­celled and resched­uled the pro­ce­dure three times, partly be­cause I didn’t know whom to ask. By that last time I re­alised a colonoscopy wasn’t just a colonoscopy, it was a big bad metaphor. What if I get sick?

I de­cided to ask my un­cou­pled Face­book friends what scared them about be­com­ing ill. I was over­whelmed by the num­ber of re­sponses and by the uni­ver­sal­ity of our fears. “Ques­tions about shop­ping, cook­ing, house­keep­ing, transportation to med­i­cal ap­point­ments, han­dling fi­nances, hav­ing suf­fi­cient funds, all arise,” posted one woman in her 60s. “I worry about hav­ing to leave my home,” com­mented an­other. Many oth­ers said they were ter­ri­fied of hav­ing to de­pend on oth­ers. And the mother of all fears: “Be­ing alone, then dy­ing alone.”– Wash­ing­ton Post.

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