Live isolated in own home – this is what people say they want

Is it coincidence or what happened to a friend and a relative of mine more common than the general population imagines?

The two women, very different in all ways, over 80 both of them thought of themselves as coping living on their own. O loved her comfortable flat. Very independent she belonged to a few social groups, had many friends and family and at no time considered changing the situation. M on the other hand lives in badly managed sheltered accommodation after many moves, has no friends and only an elderly relative  as social contact.

O was found by a neighbour, unconscious. Nobody knew got to know how long she had been lying on her bed unable to contact anybody.  After a few weeks in hospital, she died. M was also found  nearly  unconscious and bruised on the floor where she had been lying for two days and nights.  The ambulance took over an hour to arrive and she was admitted to hospital. After 10 days as an inpatient she was declared medically fit and discharged with the promise of home care help as soon as she arrived home. She was still very confused, weak and unable to function. The relative was not informed of the situation, and not given any contact numbers.  The carers did not arrive that day, evening, or the next day. It transpired that she was discharged before a care plan was put in place by the council.

I am writing this because I felt strongly that the general policy of keeping old people in their own home as long as possible ,’that is what they wish’, may in the long run be more destructive and costly that establishing good care homes. I have written about this in previous posts (search in this blog ‘Enrich your future, and  Protecting our parents) . Our culture is an individualistic one. The isolation figures are worrying and lead to the above incidents. Yet excellent care homes cater for rich people. We need to think outside the box, read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, investigate OWCH. Ageing is a feminist issue and there is hope that the revival of feminist groups (london 70s sisters)   will yield similar projects.



It is creeping towards me. Stealthily, viciously, deadly. Since leaving the country of my youth where we lived in a big extended family I have always felt in danger of this threat but this was often allayed by the advantages of living free with no prying and judging eyes. My maternal Grandmother lived with us. She was part of the family but not quite. She mainly kept to her room being served her meals by a maid who was looking after her. My father could not bear the noise of her ill-fitting dentures at the table and she was only admitted at the table for the high holidays. She sat a the window all day long and observed the comings and goings of the tenants of this modern block of flats. She followed the dramas and comedies of a street always full of people and she used to run after me with a cardigan when she saw friends coming to pick me up to go out in the evening…

I often think of her now. I sit at my suburban kitchen window and observe the seasonal changes of the oak tree or the impassive leaves of the …. and I think yes it is about to get me.

It started a year after my retirement. I missed my colleagues dreadfully, the wonderful feeling of working in a team and knowing each other rather well. The daily contacts  and the feeling of the daily changes of my life being witnessed, the need to get on with people I did not like particularly.. In this gap year I achieved my dream of swimming on the Great Barrier Reef and observing the tropical natural wildlife I then settled in the anonymous London Suburb where I knew nobody in spite of having lived here for decades.   I joined different associations, The U3A, the antinuclear groups, the feminist groups and often went birdwatching on holiday. I read Betty Friedan but did not heed her advice of the time to change ones life as you grow older is soon after retirement. I was too busy campaigning and making new acquaintances but apart from a handful of very close friends who lived a long way away the quality of connection of the extended family or of my special working environment  was never achieved again.

In perfect synchrony the physical changes and the dreaded fear augment by the day. A meeting missed here a demonstration avoided there.   I have started to diminish my activities and opportunities for social contacts.



Five years ago I was invited to take part in a  cafe style consultation in preparation of the WOW Festival on the South Bank. Of course on my table I made a point of putting the necessity of having older women represented at the festival. None of the other much younger or middle aged women took any notice and my contribution did not make the table report to the whole gathering.  I suffered until the reports of the other tables. None mentioned old women. On my way out I approached one of the officials and put my point of view. I even made positive suggestions: a film show (in particular the company of strangers. A video installation about old women, a photo exhibition,, a talk about the role of old women in societies.  I do not think that the woman who listened to me with a patient tolerance heard me. The body language indicated that she would not even report my suggestions.

I have not attended any of the WOW festivals since then. I am so delighted to notice that some of the 70s sisters in the past week have commented on the ageism of the festival and intend to do something about it. Apart from some old women performers, the old woman has had no presence in the WOW.

I feel at last that there may be a militant old women feminist voice against ageism in the air…

Simone’s thoughts on ageing and disability

It is Josephine’s post that inspired me to write this. I am 79 and have been in retirement for 20 years. For the last twenty years I have gone through constant adaptations: to  the liberation from work, the loss of working in a team, the freedom of travelling where and when I liked, the new responsibilities of looking after my parents, their death, the involvement in political activities, the  new social networks, the role of an active grandmother, the children’s separations divorces or other crisis.

Now nearly 80 I am getting progressively deafer and my energies are declining. The two losses conspire to make me conscious of what I fear most of all about ageing : isolation. My children, grandchildren and step grandchild (child of my son’s partner by another father) live in other towns. I see them on holidays or during the rare visits they have time for. I have no friends who live locally.

I have always relied on public transport and distances did not affect my attendance at cultural and social events. Now I tend to avoid these not only because of the effort necessary to travel long distances but also because once there I do not follow most of what is being said on the platform or the noisy environment. Theatre going is out and English and American films are often hard work. The foreign ones with subtitles are the most comfortable.

I talk to old the old women who sit next to me on the bus. I am often told : “Well one has to get out doesn’t one”. “You cannot stay at home all day”.  “I like going to the shopping centre it is an outing isn’t it?”. Will I get to this stage?

I fear the creeping isolation. Will I be able to adapt to it?.





Nadia thoughts on ageing and disability

From the OFN Newsletter No 210 October-November 2014

Greetings everyone, old age ain’t kind as many of you know, but it comes to all of us if we are lucky enough to live that long. I count old age from 80. I’m now 83 and having had many falls and fractures, I find I can no longer do all the things I have been used to doing. My latest fall involved a fracture of a vertebrae ten weeks ago and I’ve been in a brace for eight weeks so far. I have been told I can start taking it off at the end of this month. Hurrah!! So how has it been? Frustration, anger, depression come to mind, and the question: why has this happened to me? I have gone from feeling down to being optimistic. It’s like being in a long tunnel but trying to keep in mind that there is light at the end that I am working towards. I am lucky to have my son nearby, and a wonderful cleaner who helps out and does the shopping. My friends all live far away so cannot visit often, but we keep in touch. I remain optimistic; it’s a long way back. I do exercises every day, sitting in the chair – arms legs neck ankles wrists. It is essential we keep our muscles working, especially in old age. Life is good. Miss you all.

Josephine thoughts on ageing and disability

First appeared in the Older Feminist Newsletter No 210 October-November 2014

1. Old age lasts a long time – I’ve been drawing the old age pension for 25 years!

2. It is a dynamic process, with physical fitness and abilities constantly changing and imposing the need to learn different behaviours. For instance, after slipping off a kerb and fracturing my pelvis while talking as I walked, I learned to watch my feet all the time. Similarly, after misjudging traffic speed while crossing the road after dark, I learned I could no longer run without falling over (and thoroughly frightening a poor driver!)

3. There is also a reduction of cognitive abilities. I can no longer count on completing crosswords.

4. There is no point mourning all this. I think of it as a survival tax.

OFN newsletter Subscription: £10 for six issues (every second month) or £6 concs. Overseas: £18 by cheque (in pounds sterling only) or Western Union. Recipient’s details for Western Union: Molly McConville, 60 Gibson Square, London N1 0RA


I have on my blog analysed  a few scenes of John Cassavetes’ film Opening Night. See 

In my research I discovered that there is a variety of feelings expressed  in women’s writings about age and identity.  Talking among a few friends a range of sentiments is also voiced although it seems to me that “Inside I feel 18” is the most common.  I would like to survey the responses of as many old women as possible to two questions and would appreciate the cooperation of the 70s sisters. The responses can be anonymous sent to me on or posted as comments on this post.

How old do you feel you are?

What do you see when you look in the mirror. 

For example: Lynne Segal: “we are all ages and no age”

R.R. When I look in the mirror I see the features of my father in his old age. I have no access to my past selves. I only know how I feel now and I feel I have lived 80 years.

J.G. When I look in the mirror I see my uncle’s face… he said he looked like a turtle in old age


V.D. I don’t know how 73 is meant to feel. I am a bit surprised, still, that I have reached this age. I know I feel more alert and alive than I did in my teens and twenties and take more exercise. Being retired certainly suits me and I feel fortunate to be able to enjoy it – so far….

In the mirror I see an older woman and notice the lines and wonder how they were formed. Presumably many years of smoking can account for lots of the ones round my mouth and I don’t like the deep frown lines, but I am stuck with them and, in a way, lucky to have them as some people don’t reach this age. My hair is its natural colour, which is grey streaked with white – a look that some women go to extraordinary lengths to achieve! I see my father’s eyes with that high cholesteral ring round the pupils. but the whole face really looks more like my mother’s sister’s face.

A.B. I do not to be 18 again.  I was not in a good place at 18. I cannot put a number to my age. When I am asked I have to stop and think. I am 86. In the mirror I see that my lines have recently accumulated and I am not too pleased about it. I do not look at the mirror as often as I used to. I am shocked when I see that my hair have lost colour.

J.P. I am 71 and 1/2. I feel about 55 but alas, I have 80 year-old knees! . When I look in the mirror I see me at 10 years old (face hasn’t changed) except for the addition of a few wrinkles. I have earned them!!!!!

D.S.  71, my age. Definitely not ‘inside I feel 18’. I think the point is perhaps everyone knew how you were meant to feel at 18, so it’s easy to define. I don’t know what 71 is meant to feel like (and don’t care!) A bit like that t-shirt ‘this is what a feminist looks like’–’this is what an old feminist looks like’. But then I’ve never really worried what age I am, just what’s happening in my life. Would love to have the energy of 18 but am glad to have the experience of 71.

What do I see when I look in the mirror? Someone who is puzzled, worried, sad, and inevitably less attractive than in earlier years (not 18, I think my best years were early 30s for looks!) I don’t see any relatives directly, but bits from both my mother and father, with more bits that aren’t identifiable.

V.B Interesting, the feeling about yourself in old age. I’ve had the “inside I am still 18” comment, but I’m long past that…and I don’t remember feeling as interesting then as I do now at 74. I don’t feel the pain and insecurity that I felt at 18. At 74 I feel physically old which means I concentrate more on my general well being feelings…..I care for myself at this age in the sense of taking care of myself. There is a feeling of relaxation and peacefulness that I welcome. I feel my age but in a positive way….I feel ….ripe!

Looking in the mirror I see my mother and my father’s mother looking back at me in their old age. My cheeks are slipping downwards giving my face – in repose – a severe look, but there’s still a lively curiosity in the eyes, if a little critical. Plenty of wrinkles which signify age as well as the grey hair and thick eyebrows. My face says that I’m an old woman and that’s as it should be at 74.

R.L. 1- I am surprised whenever I think of how old I am – I feel no older than I felt at 55

2-  I see the wrinkles on the outside, but don’t feel them from the inside.

S.K. 1- When I am with young people – my students on the Folk Degree course, for instance – I feel particularly young , but that could be because they mostly don’t treat me as an elderly woman. When I’ve been doing Nana duty with my two young grandsons ( a labour of love – don’t get me wrong!) I begin to feel more like 72, which I am.
Getting up from the floor, with increasingly weak knees – or dancing energetically with them ( but for a much shorter time than they would like!) reminds me of my years, and reminds me that I wish she’d started a family when she ( and I) was younger! Mostly though, I feel 30-40- youthful, energetic, enthusiastic for my job and my many interests, but also with an awareness that I have a wisdom and insight that come with greater age than I feel. The usual shock and rude awakening when I catch my reflection in the mirror, or catch sight of my flabby , wrinkled ‘batwings’… Or when they ask me in the supermarket if I need help with my packing
Do I really look that feeble?!!!_

2- My mother. After a glass or two of wine, though – I see a reasonably attractive middle aged woman. But then my eyesight isn’t what it was…

S.T  1) Well, I honestly feel I’m 72. I feel totally different in so many ways from my teenage years. This may sound pompous, but surely by this stage you have a lifetime of experience and accumulated wisdom? When I was young, I had no self-confidence and didn’t know what to think about  people and how the world should be organised. Now I feel very confident in my views. This disadvantage is that I feel increasingly responsible for everything that happens and totally frustrated by my powerless to improve the world.
I am also nowadays very aware of the approaching end of life, which I could never envisage until after I retired, and this often makes me quite sad and depressed.

2) I see an old woman who looks miserable because she has a sagging jawline! Unless I’m smiling, in which case I see what I regard as my real self. Sometimes I simply see my mother.

A.R. how old do i feel I am? it depends of the day and what i am doing, when i ache everywhere and it is damp i feel 80, in a warm sumer day i can feel 22 , when i am in love i feel 18, when i play badmington and table tennis i feel 50 but if i have to run after a bus or walk uphill i feel 100. when i think of the future i feel very old and scared.

what do i see in the mirror? greying hair, wrinkles developing at an alarming rate, drooping face, often with a frown and a worried, bitter expression, facial hair growing, the freshness gone except when i smile. the trick is to smile all the time

A.S. 1. I feel 60 — I’ve got used to that, with my Freedom Pass and people getting up for me — but actually I’m nearly 70, I’ll be 68 this year. More worryingly, I have very few definite
1) Well, I honestly feel I’m 72. I feel totally different in so many ways from my teenage years. This may sound pompous, but surely by this stage you have a lifetime of experience and accumulated wisdom? When I was young, I had no self-confidence and didn’t know what to think about how people and how the world should be organised. Now I feel very confident in my views. This disadvantage is that I feel increasingly responsible for everything that happens and totally frustrated by my powerless to improve the world.

I am also nowadays very aware of the approaching end of life, which I could never envisage until after I retired, and this often makes me quite sad and depressed.

2) I see an old woman who looks miserable because she has a sagging jawline! Unless I’m smiling, in which case I see what I regard as my real self. Sometimes I simply see my mother.
memories of the 2000s ,whereas I can date certain years oft he 60s and 70s very precisely, and have at least a number of outstanding memories for the subsequent decades. The 21st century seems blurred, and I imagine this is partly because I don’t have children (no landmark family events, nor definite cutoff points on whom I am attracted to) and partly because I have a very old parent surviving at 103 (she goes on for ever and much of the pace of my own life has slowed to accommodate her needs). People do think I am or look younger, but I don’t !

My sister and I are developing characteristically similar faces, though when we were young we looked so different that we could win bets on getting people to guess our relationship to anyone in the room. She said something very observant to me when we hit our 60s: ‘Men think they can stay looking young by not eating anything, but they’re so silly because anyone can tell when we get older: women get these two little blobs at the corner of their chins, and men’s eyebrows start sticking out horizontally’.

I like the idea of a mirror fast actually, but find myself facing the world most days with a dab of pink over those two little blobs, and two black lines round my eyes.

From L.N : “For people in Alzheimer’s wards who have trouble remembering which room is theirs, if staff members try to help by taking a picture of the people and posting the photo on the doors of the rooms, the residents do not recognize themselves. Tellingly, however, people with Alzheimer’s do recognize themselves and select the correct room when the posted photograph shows them at the age of 30 (cf. Nolan et al. 2002).”

Nolan, Beth A. D., R. Mark Mathews, Gina Truesdell-Todd, and Amy VanDorp. 2002. “Evaluation of the Effect of Orientation Cues on Wayfinding in Persons with Dementia.” Alzheimer’s Care Quarterly 3(1): 46–49.