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Ageing with grace

Three men comment on the challenges of growing older alone
Published: 
Monday, November 24, 2014
Connection with others can make a big difference in having healthier, happier senior years. PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

A recent study of ageing in the UK found that the number of severely lonely men more than 50 was set to rise to one million in the UK in 15 years. 

The British charity Independent Age said this mattered because loneliness was a health risk: “If you allow people to suffer from loneliness, it has the equivalent impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is as big a risk as obesity.” 

In a three-part series, Shereen Ali takes a look at this issue locally. The men in this first piece are all living alone in a home. 

But while they share some experiences of ageing issues, they say they do not feel isolated, because they have each other for company.

 


Trevor, 75

Trevor, 75, is a tall burly fellow with a pale complexion who said his biggest weakness was women: “I was twice married. That was my weakness. My first marriage was the longer one, it lasted for more than ten years and we had two children.”

But his family does not visit him very regularly.

“I don’t like the thought of getting old,” he says brusquely; “There are physical challenges, like when I try to get up off the bed and my right knee gives problems.”

“I’ve always had a car. I still drive,” he said. He seemed to be fine with living at the home, as he still had a lot of independence. “We are very well cared for here,” he said.

He is a retired accountant who worked for the same employer for more than 40 years. He used to enjoy playing cricket and football, he said.

What does he think about connecting more with other people, or doing other kinds of activities now that he’s getting older? 

“I am a loner—I don’t feel isolated,” he said with finality. He added: “I am not interested in other activities. For fun, I ole talk with Carlee (Carlton).” 

 


Carlton, 81 

“Old age is a bitch!” declared Carlton, 81, a normally gracious and courteous man who almost immediately apologised for his bluntness of expression.

I asked him why he felt that way.

He said when you get old, everything becomes “tortuous.” Physically, you slow down; mentally, aging can affect the brain and perceptions; he said he gets forgetful without medication. Yet he clearly still enjoys life: “I don’t want to die!” he stated, in tones of faint outrage, as he gazed at me steadily, his eyes very clear.

Self-possessed, friendly and forthright, Carlton shared a few experiences on aging with the T&T Guardian as he sat in a big comfy sofa at the Anglesea Heights Residential Home in Diego Martin. He seemed very philosophical about the health issues which led him to move to the seniors’ home. 

Carlton is a lean, chocolate-brown man of Afro-TT heritage with close-cropped hair. Clean-living, he said he has “never smoked, never drank.” He has a genial, concise manner of speaking, with occasional dramatic flourishes of vivid language when he’s emphasising a point deeply felt. He moves fluently from standard English to Trini creole dialect. He used to work as an accountant.

Very independent, he’s nevertheless grateful for the care he now receives at Anglesea, as previously, he lived alone and faced increasingly challenging health issues. He is congenial with the community of fellow residents he has met in the seniors' home, and has nothing but praise for Patricia Woodruffe, the owner of Anglesea who ensures everyone is well looked after.

Like many older men, he’s now more or less alone.

“I grew up in Belmont and Barataria,” shared Carlton. “I am now alone. My wife dead, my mother dead, my father dead. I was married for 15 years. I worked for Caroni Ltd as an accountant for 40 years. When I retired, my wife was still alive. I have two daughters and four granddaughters.”

The death of his wife was a major blow. Retired and widowed, he lived in Carapichaima by himself for a while, after this life change. “It was very difficult to deal with at first. Then I got accustomed.”

His sister would visit him with her husband, a pastor, to socialise and also to see that he was managing on his own as he grew older. He recalled one particular visit:

“They came knocking, knocking at the door. I was hearing them, but I couldn’t control my muscles to reach the door…I said to myself, ‘Me ent feelin good.’ The pastor later said: ‘Let us get somewhere to put this boy.’ I said to him: ‘Nah, I go make, man.’ But they said, ‘No, man’—they felt I should be living with other people.” 

Carlton was fortunate to have very caring family members. When they realised he needed help, they took the initiative to find a good home for him, even though at first he hated the idea. 

“I said: ‘I ent going nowhere.’ But my sister’s husband insisted. They had a private chat behind my back. They then brought me to see this place….and when I met Pat for the first time, she was so nice. By the time I reached back home by my front gate, I knew I’d go back.”

He admitted that loneliness is a problem for many older men. “Some people get hopeless. But not me. Every Saturday, barring rain, my daughter looks for me,” he said.

“My elder daughter is my manager and boss,” he joked, but with evident affection and pride. “She looks after all my interests. She sold my car, gave away the house.”

When younger, Carlton was an active sportsman: “I played first-class football, second-class cricket, and middle-class lawn tennis,” he jokes: “I played all the time!”

Now, he prefers more laid-back recreation. What does he do for fun? 

“I sit down in the gallery there and look down the road.” 

 


Gregory, 61

Gregory is a 61-year-old man of mixed descent. His father was Indian, his mother was Scottish, and his family also has French creole and some Spanish roots.

Unlike his older housemate Carlton, Gregory never married, and never had children. He is fairly healthy and still mobile—he can walk down the road to take a taxi or bus, no problem, and he can drive. He has had several jobs, including working in accounts at a leading conglomerate, working for a distributor of household products, and doing work for his brother’s travel service for 20 years. He came to live at Anglesea Heights Residential Home just this year, and hopes it will be temporary, until he manages to quit his addictions to cigarettes and marijuana and get settled in an apartment.

“I never stopped smoking cigarettes, and I smoked marijuana for 44 years. This place is helping me to clean up. Now, I’ve cut down to two cigarettes a day,” he said.

Though alone, he said he does not feel cut off from others or isolated, because he has the camaraderie of his fellow housemates at Anglesea—including “my good pardner here, Carlton.” He also has a brother who helps him.

He said one good thing about getting older was “You’re wiser.” But he said physically, you get a bit slower—though for him so far, he said nothing has changed for the worse. Instead, his health has improved at the home, because of the nutritious food served: “Since I’ve been here, I’ve lost 30 pounds; the secret is to eat a little, and drink a lot of water,” he said.

He said he wouldn’t mind if there were more clubs where men could play board games, or do other activities, or simply socialise. And he said he doesn’t mind getting visits from family. 

 


Healthy tips

1 Die young (not recommended)

This just leaves others to sort everything out while you float about blissfully in Heaven/rot away to nothing. Leaving the party when you are still young and pretty is all very well for the dehumanised character in a film poster, but not when you are someone’s dad or brother or son.

2 Make lots of money

The report found that men on low incomes are more likely to suffer from loneliness in old1 Die young (not recommended)

This just leaves others to sort everything out while you float about blissfully in Heaven/rot away to nothing. Leaving the party when you are still young and pretty is all very well for the dehumanised character in a film poster, but not when you are someone’s dad or brother or son.

3 Make your own friends

While it’s easy to fall into the rhythm of letting your wife organise your social calendar, the more you do for yourself, the less chance you have of feeling lonely at any stage of your life, not just in old age.

4 Find a wife

While it’s important to do things off your own bat (see point 3), a wife is still the best-known cure for most of a man’s problems. Sometimes she’s the cause of them, however, so choose carefully.

5 Find time for the things you like doing

While hitting 35 might mean the pace has gone from your footballer’s legs, there are loads of clubs and societies that offer activities to keep your mind active and help you interact with other people. Anything’s better than nothing, even bowls.

6 Be more like a woman

Men’s inability to open up about their feeling is one of the major causes of isolation. It’s very modern to talk about things which bother us, and other men won’t judge you. If they do judge, maybe you should start looking for new friends.

7 Don’t be proud

There’s no shame in feeling alone, and you can always guarantee that however you are feeling, there will be lots of other people experiencing the same thing. You just need to get out and find them.

8 Be nice to others

If you’re mean to people, they may stick around when they need something from you, but they will probably pay you back by disappearing as soon as they no longer need you to give them money or lend them your car.

9 Find out how stuff works

Whatever you think of all this smartphone-and-iPad nonsense, studies show the more that older men keep up with technology, the less likely they are to feel disconnected from the world.

10 Don’t resent young people

You may not like them, but you need them. The young have always existed and they are always viewed with suspicion by a large proportion of the older generation. 

The “youth of today” has no respect and is hastening the demise of civilisation, you hear them say. This is no truer now than it was back when Elvis Presley’s crotch was seen as the work of Satan. (telegraph.co.uk)

TOMORROW: PART 2—Old, alone and abandoned: The health risks of loneliness in men

 

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