Perceptions About Well Elders Who

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

The woman is very close to several of her children, and her relationships with her children are the most important in her life. In addition, she visits with friends several times throughout the month, attending a monthly luncheon with one group of friends, meeting another friend regularly for drinks and dinner, and attending other social gatherings. She has strong relationships with several neighbors. She has no pets of her own, but is fond of her granddaughter's parakeet, which stays at her house because the granddaughter's cat eats birds. She has very close relationships with her grandchildren, particularly the two youngest grandchildren, whom she sees at least once a week. All of these relationships promote love and belonging.

The woman plays multiple roles in her life. Her primary roles are mother and grandmother, and she has some contact with her children and grandchildren on a daily basis. She is also well-connected with her friends, maintaining long-term friendships and cultivating new friendships. She has been in the girlfriend role after her divorce, but has not dated for the last five years. Her transition out of that significant romantic relationship was one of her more difficult transitions of recent time, as she and her boyfriend were deeply in love, but had conflicting life goals. One of her most important roles is sibling, and she has a younger sister with a terminal cancer diagnosis, which provides significant challenges.

Her family support system is excellent, but incomplete. Her parents died a few years ago and her siblings are beginning to experience health issues. Three of her five daughters and one of her son-in-law are very supportive. The others are loving when present, but are largely absent. There seems to be sufficient family support, but one can foresee conflict between her children if there is a major medical decision to be made because the children who do not visit frequently are in denial about their mother's declining physical condition.

The woman's self-esteem is moderate. She seems aware that she is an attractive, nice woman who does good things for others and is confident that she is a good grandparent. However, her marriage was an abusive one and one can see glimpses of that in her demeanor. She still regrets not leaving her husband earlier, and questions whether that decision led to the early deaths of her other two children. She made comments about one daughter, a domestic violence advocate, speaking up for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and her regrets that her children had personal experience with the issue. However, at the same time she showed tremendous pride to have helped her children break a generational cycle of abuse.

The woman I interviewed was actually a very effective communicator, so I find it difficult to highlight any specific technique that I used. I asked her open-ended questions about her life, and she answered them. I did notice that she would become distant when answering questions that seemed to make her uncomfortable, so I would leave that topic and return to it after discussing an easier topic. Her health was probably the most difficult topic for her to discuss, and I gave her a list of yes or no questions about her medical conditions to facilitate that conversation.

Conclusion

My interview changed my perceptions of a well-elder. I had not thought about the fact that older age almost ensured that the individual would have experienced significant losses in his or her lifetime, and that these losses might lead to depression of a decline in the individual's available support group. I had also not considered the fact that a clearly present support person, such as this woman's adult daughter, did not necessarily reflect full family involvement. The interview reminded me that elderly people are individuals who bring their own contexts to their living circumstances, and should always…