Study Shows Men and Women Age Differently
In this Annual Editions article research was done on 150 men and women living in a community. The majority of the women were unmarried, living alone with some impairments and reduced financial resources. The men had fewer impairments; were more independent and exhibited more control over their environment. Their well-being was impaired by unexpected widowhood, caregiving for a sick spouse or relocation. Timing of these life events affects men and women differently and results in a difference of problems they face in late-late life.
Women have more chronic ailments
Very old women are more impaired than men; however, they are better able to handle the losses encountered physically and socially with living long. Women are better at sustaining relationships and are more willing to ask for help when they need it. They have confidante friendships with other widowed women. Because women of this cohort were encouraged to fulfill domestic roles, they have more of a continuum in competency, activity and managing daily routine. Women receive more support from children and make an effort to maintain more contact with them. They are better able to rally support for their needs. One fourth of women do not receive the social services they need.
Men have fewer relationship supports
Men tend to have more superficial relationships. Many prior relationships were formed at work but since retirement have fallen off. Many wives arranged the social activities between family and friends. When the spouse dies, the man is ill equipped to handle those social activities. Many men do not feel like trying to make new friends and spend more time alone. Men shared their problems with their spouse and are uncomfortable sharing confidential information with children or friends. They also have a more difficult time asking for help when they need it since competency, independence and managing affairs were stressed for men. Men are less likely to use social services. For an older man who is widowed, new skills are required for learning to cook and take care of daily activities. One man reported that he felt he had less freedom because of all the time required in doing domestic duties. He also had an ill spouse who required a lot of assistance. Having to face these kinds of duties later in life makes it especially stressful for men. They also are more resistant to relocation to a senior living residence. Many look at it as restrictive and the end of the line for them.
Author’s Note: I remember that my mother’s father lived alone. We would visit periodically but I don’t recall him ever coming to visit us. I have also observed that many men in the cohort of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s didn’t even know how to boil water so it would be particularly difficult to manage a nutritious diet if they had to cook it. Luckily, today’s microwaves and toaster ovens make it easier for a single person to heat something up. Women do have an advantage in that they have more relationships and are better able to handle the day-to-day activities.1
1 Men and Women Aging Differently, Barbara M. Barer, Annual Editions 04/05 with permission from Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., 1994