Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2015
Every one of the twelve women whose pathways through frailty we described in the last chapter was living alone at the point when frailty became an important element in their life. By contrast, one-half (six of twelve) of the sample of men whom we interviewed at this stage of life were still living with their wives. If this were a large and representative sample, it would illustrate a huge difference in gendered experience of ageing. In fact, we do know that the difference in men's and women's likelihood of widowhood in the United Kingdom has been and remains substantial (Bennett, 1997). Reviews also suggest men fare worse after their spouses’ deaths. We did not collect enough evidence to justify this conclusion, but the different nature of male reactions to growing frailty could be illustrated from our case accounts. As with the women, we consider the men in order according to the age at which physical frailty first intruded noticeably on their lives.
Becoming frailer before eighty years of age
As we saw in Chapter 4, Fred Hobson had a major heart condition when he entered our study at age sixty-seven years. This was already preventing him doing the heavy work around the house, like decorating, which he had been previously used to doing. His health continued to deteriorate, and he suffered a succession of three heart attacks over the following ten years. When he was interviewed at age seventy-seven, shortly after his wife died (see Chapter 5), he was experiencing a combination of problems when walking, feeling both unsteady and breathless. Some months later, aged seventy-eight years, he also suffered a stroke that resulted in him being in hospital for a period of three weeks.
He was interviewed again at age eighty years. By this time, he considered that he had overcome the problems relating to the stroke, including difficulties with speech and paralysis in his side and left hand.