Journal of Professional Nursing

Women over the age of 85 years who live alone: A descriptive study

Pam Foster, RN, MN (Adult and Older Adult) (Hons.), Lecturer, School of Nursing and Health Studies, BOP Polytechnic, Tauranga
Stephen Neville, RN, PhD, FCNA(NZ), Senior Lecturer & Postgraduate Programme Co-ordinator, School of Health and Social Services, Auckland Campus, Massey University, Auckland

Reference:  Foster, P., & Neville, S. (2010). Women over the age of 85 years who live alone: A descriptive study. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 26(1), 4-13.


New Zealand as a society is ageing. This translates to an increasing number of people particularly women, over the age of 85 years. Despite many older women living alone, they are often perceived by both society and health professionals as frail and dependent. This qualitative study was designed to explore and describe experiences of older women who lived alone in the community. A qualitative descriptive methodology underpinned the study. A sample of five older women who lived alone in their own homes was interviewed. Data were analysed using a general inductive approach. Three themes emerged which reflected the reality of living by themselves: "active participation", "keeping control", and" healthy living". The information gained from describing the lives of this group of women suggests that many older women are able to live full and successful independent lives in the community. This research provides nursing with a better understanding of the realities for older women who live alone. Finally, this paper will provide nurses with some ideas about how best to support this group of people as they age.

Independence, older women, gerontological nursing, living alone

It is widely acknowledged that populations globally are ageing, with the fastest growing group in the older population being the over 85 year olds (Wallace, 2006). In 2006, 1.6% of the population of New Zealand was over 85 years, and is projected to increase to 2.7 % by 2026 (Ministry of Health [MOH], 2007). The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2002) recognises the challenge ageing populations place on governments, and advocates that countries initiate policies to optimise conditions for health, social participation and security, therefore enhancing quality of life as people age.

In 2002 the New Zealand Ministry of Health launched a strategy to support positive ageing for older New Zealanders called "The Health of Older People Strategy" (MOH, 2002). One of the key foci of this strategy is to keep older people living in their own homes. Inherent in the strategy is the notion of independence. The World Health Organisation (WHO) (2002) defines independence................................

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