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