The Choice in Aging

Presented at the Georgetown University Family Center Conference on Aging, March 20, 1978

An eighty-eight year old woman was hospitalized at Georgetown Hospital for a broken hip.  She was referred by her private duty nurse because she was: uncooperative, slightly disoriented, and needed to be convinced that she could no longer live alone.

Mrs. M was indeed withdrawn upon our first meeting.  The themes of her distress included: a fear that eighty-eight was to old to recover the stability to walk, the fear of loss of independence if she couldn’t walk, and the great loss that would result if she could not return to living alone.  These themes can be understood by viewing some of the nodal events in Mrs. M’s life.  When she was sixty-nine (69), her husband described to function well died.  Mrs. M thought for a while that her life was ended as well.  Recovery from this grief came quickly and Mrs. M evolved into a busy life with her sister and women of her church.  This satisfactory life ended briefly when the patient, then seventy-eight (78), fell and broke her hip.  Again, she had recovered quickly and had re-entered her busy schedule.  Now, at eighty-eight (88), she doubted her capacity to recover.

Within the first week of her hospitalization, it was clear Mrs. M had once again decided to fight back to functioning.  She began physical therapy with a vigor that tired the physical therapist as she refused to take rest periods.  She dealt with her financial affairs at a meeting she called which included her only son, his wife, and her sister.  A week later she announced a decision to enter a nursing home to continue working on her walking and to allow more time for thought about where she would live and with whom.  Mrs. M was discharged from the nursing to return home and continue to live alone.