Analyzing the Lifestyle of Older Adults Living With Chronic Illnesses

Introduction

 Older adults in society face a wide array of experiences, obstacles, and transitions in their daily lives. In the research article “Maintaining the Balance: Older Adults with Chronic Health Manage Life in the Community” by Cynthia S. Jacelon, common themes were discovered when analyzing the lifestyle of older adults living with chronic illnesses, which were identified as activity, attitude, health, autonomy, and relationship (Jacelon, 2010). These five themes span a multitude of areas of life, and the research article stressed the importance of keeping a balance between them (Jacelon, 2010). This strategy of balance supports living a fulfilling and successful life as an older adult, especially with the added struggle of facing a chronic illness, and physical deterioration that accompanies aging to varying degrees (Jacelon, 2010).

The research article elaborated on strategies that the older adults employed to maintain a balance between the major themes of life in older adulthood. Strategies the participants utilized to maintain balance in activity were completing Activities of daily life, ADLs, and finding ways for their instrumental activities of daily life, or IADLs, to be tended to by themselves, or with the help of others (Jacelon, 2010). Also, the older adults came up with creative solutions to complete tasks that were otherwise too difficult (Jacelon, 2010). To keep their health in balance, participants noted managing their medications, seeking help when they felt unhealthy, and learning to cope with the realities of living with chronic illnesses (Jacelon, 2010). In regards to autonomy, the participants aimed to remain independent and stay in control of their aging process as they maneuvered new transitions and challenges (Jacelon, 2010). Older adults fostered a positive attitude by looking forward to the future, refraining from dwelling on losses, having a purpose to their lives, and having a positive perspective on life (Jacelon, 2010). Lastly, the older adults made an effort to stay socially involved with family and friends as their life progressed (Jacelon, 2010).

Methods

A one on one interview was conducted on Wednesday, September 20th, 2019 with a 94-year-old female at the Brightview Senior Living Facility. The participant was recruited for the interview to provide a personal account of their daily life as an older adult and their experiences through the course of aging. Permission was granted for the interviewer to take notes regarding the interviewee’s answers. For the purpose of upholding confidentiality, the interviewee agreed to be referred to by their initials, A.H., for this paper.

Findings

 During the interview, A.H. provided information that illustrated her health, autonomy, activity, relationships and attitudes as a 94-year-old female. When asked how she would rate her overall health, A.H. stated that she believed that on a scale of one to ten (one representing the poorest health, ten representing optimal health), her health was an eight out of ten. A.H. attributed this rating to her ability to take care of herself, remain active, and she feels healthy and in tune with the world around her on most days. Even though A.H. rates her health positively, she explained that she has macular degeneration in one eye, and ocular venous occlusion in the other, which has resulted in obstructed vision in both eyes. Two major issues A.H. faces as a result of her chronic conditions are not seeing faces clearly, and not be able to read books. She has adjusted to these obstacles by getting in the habit of politely asking people their name when she cannot recognize them right away, and she has discovered that audiobooks allow her to listen to novels. A.H. does not see these adaptations as setbacks in her daily life. She stated that she recognizes how her health could be worse and that she is grateful to still be able to most things independently.

A.H. lives at the Brightview Senior Living Facility on the “independent” floor, where she is provided a breakfast buffet and dinner every day. A.H. explained that she is able to do all activities of daily living including bathing, getting dressed, doing her hair and makeup, and feeding herself. She is able to walk, but requires the use of a cane, or occasionally a walker, for stability.  A.H. does some instrumental activities of daily living, such as managing her own mail, making telephone calls, and obtaining and administering her own medication. Some IADL’s A.H. does partially, such as supplemental cleaning that her cleaning staff does not provide, making her own lunch which is not provided by her facility, and managing her transportation. However, A.H. does not handle her own finances, which are tended to by her daughter.

 A.H. described her daily activities in detail. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, A.H. participates in an hour-long exercise class in the gym, and on every other day, she takes a walk with her best friend in the facility around the local lake, or to the grocery store. In the afternoon, A.H. enjoys watching television with fellow residents, going to afternoon activities such as ballroom dancing, and enjoys listening to singers and musicians that perform at her facility. A.H. explained how prior to moving into the senior living facility, she lived in an apartment. This led to her feeling isolated in her daily life, since she did not leave the apartment often and only got a few visits a week from family. Since moving into the facility, she explained feeling more excited to try new things when opportunities arise, and she feels a greater inclination to participate in physical activity such as her long walks and exercise classes, which she believes have made her feel stronger. A.H. also elaborated on her religious activities, stating that she goes to church every Sunday as well as two additional weekdays. She also noted devoting several minutes throughout the day to private prayer. A.H. was adamant in stating her opinion that she does not know how anyone lives life without religion, as it is one of her main support systems.

A.H. mentioned some important friendships in her life that are central to her happiness. A.H. has daily phone calls with her best friend of 88 years, who she said is her closest friend. Also, A.H. met a group of women in her senior living facility with whom she has become friends, and she looks forward to eating dinner with them every night. A.H. expressed that living in close proximity to people and meeting her new friends has made her feel happier, and has given her a greater sense of purpose. She stated that in her apartment she would sit at home alone and occasionally talk on the phone, but now in the facility, she has friends that want to spend time with her and share meals, which gives her a sense of belonging.

A.H. also mentioned a close connection to her family, including sons, a daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and she stated that seeing her family is one of her biggest joys in life. However, A.H. went on to mention her familial losses, mentioning losing her husband sixteen years ago, a daughter less than a year ago, and each one of her eight siblings. She stated that while she will have some times of sadness, she understands that remembering her loved ones in a positive light is better than dwelling on the sadness of her losses. One of A.H.’s biggest coping mechanisms for her losses is her devotion to her religion. A.H. said lighting candles in church for her loved ones gives her peace of mind and honors their memory.

Overall, A.H. was very optimistic regarding her lifestyle and said she looks forward to future events at her facility, dinners with her friends, and holidays spent with family. A.H. stated that she enjoys her daily life, especially after moving into the senior living facility, and she feels grateful to still have her mental and physical abilities to live a very independent daily life.

Discussion

 The findings provide evidence that A.H. suffers from chronic illnesses that obstruct vision in her eyes, and has some instability in her walking, as she requires the use of a cane, or occasionally a walker. Also, A.H. provided information about  some of her losses, such as her daughter and her husband. However, amid these challenges in her daily life, A.H. rated her personal health an eight out of ten and maintained a positive outlook when describing her daily life and aging experience. One reason as to why her coping and experience with personal challenges is effective could be her spirituality and devotion to religion. A.H. provided evidence of a strong connection with her religion, describing how she attends church approximately three times a week and often prays throughout the day. Also, she specifically cited lighting candles in church to bring peace of mind regarding her lost love ones. In a research study analyzing the role of religion in positive aging of older adults, focus groups yielded results that illustrate how religion cultivates a sense of comfort, relief, and fortitude, most prominently in times of poor health or challenges resulting from the process of aging (Malone & Dadswell, 2018). With religion as a major aspect in A.H.’s life, and the conclusions of the study linking religion and greater mental strength when dealing with challenges, it is likely that A.H.’s spirituality is a contributing factor to her positive attitude when faced with her aforementioned challenges of aging (Malone & Dadswell, 2018).

 From the interview, it can be determined that A.H. lived an isolated life prior to moving into the senior living facility. Her spouse has passed away, and she lived alone for over a decade, only receiving visits from family. However, her description of her life today is filled with interactions with other people, such as her best friend at her facility, her group of women she eats dinner with, and her group exercise classes. With her new lifestyle, A.H. reported feeling more purpose in her daily life and greater levels of happiness. A study suggests that this positive shift in A.H.’s purpose in life, involvement, and feeling of happiness can be attributed to her formation of new relationships at her senior living facility (Cornwell & Laumann, 2015). Forming new friendships in older adulthood has been proven to restore feelings of belonging and holding social importance to others, and also increase self-esteem (Cornwell & Laumann, 2015). These feelings coincide with how A.H. felt when she described her current living situation and could be contributing factors to helping her cope with her chronic illness and loss, all while remaining positive and active in her daily life.

Conclusion

 From the article “Maintaining the Balance: Older Adults with Chronic Health Manage Life in the Community”, five central themes were provided to analyze the lifestyles of older adults living with chronic illnesses. On that basis, a 94-year-old female was interviewed, and it was found that despite her chronic illness affecting her vision, she was able to maintain balance in her life according to the themes through friends, family, activities, religion, and independent living. All of these factors contributed to her overall positive view of her health, illustrating that balance between the five themes was a positive contributing factor to managing a purposeful life amid chronic illness associated with aging.

References

  • Cornwell, B., & Laumann, E. O. (2015). The health benefits of network growth: New evidence from a national survey of older adults. Social Science & Medicine, 125, 94–106.
  • Jacelon, C. S. (2010). Maintaining the Balance: Older Adults with Chronic Health Problems Manage Life in the Community. Rehabilitation Nursing, 35(1), 16–22.
  • Malone, J., & Dadswell, A. (2018, June 8). The Role of Religion, Spirituality and/or Belief in Positive Ageing for Older Adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6319229/.

 

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