Loneliness, health risks of older men go unnoticed

The lifestyles of lone older men, including dangers to their health, are almost invisible in a society which measures the quality of elderly people’s lives with a ‘feminine ruler’, according to new research sponsored by the ESRC. Many older men risk their health through seeing a visit to the doctor as a sign of weakness, whilst those who are divorced are most likely to indulge in heavy drinking and smoking. Many admitted to postponing making an appointment with the doctor until they are very sick, says the report, with potential long term adverse health consequences.From the Economic & Social Research Council:LONELINESS AND HEALTH RISKS OF OLDER MEN GO UNSEEN IN A WORLD GEARED TO OLDER WOMEN

The lifestyles of lone older men, including dangers to their health, are almost invisible in a society which measures the quality of elderly people’s lives with a ‘feminine ruler’, according to new research sponsored by the ESRC.

Many older men risk their health through seeing a visit to the doctor as a sign of weakness, whilst those who are divorced are most likely to indulge in heavy drinking and smoking. Many admitted to postponing making an appointment with the doctor until they are very sick, says the report, with potential long term adverse health consequences.

Divorced older men – a growing segment of the population – are ‘significantly disadvantaged’ when it comes to involvement in formal organisations, or with family, friends and neighbours, according to the report. It calls for policy makers to recognise their special needs.

Older men prefer not to frequent day centres and luncheon clubs because they feel they are too heavily geared to the needs of older women. Little is offered to interest men, says co-director of the study, Dr Kate Davidson of the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender, University of Surrey.

Groups aimed specifically at older people are seen by men as places for people who have ‘given up’. They avoid day centres dominated by older women and regard them as a last resort should they become incapacitated.

Said Dr Davidson: “The perception was that the only activities at day centres involved sitting around, chatting or playing Bingo ? the sort of thing ‘old women’ enjoy doing. Efforts must be made to make these clubs more attractive to older men so that they do not feel they are ‘yielding up’ their individuality or admitting ‘defeat’. They could, as happens in a few cases, offer wine and beer with lunch, a snooker table or a computer club.”

Co-director, Professor Sara Arber said: “Over recent years there have been substantial advances in our understanding of the lives of older women, but older men have been largely neglected. This research has redressed the imbalance.”

The researchers found that older working class men are less involved in community and religious organisations and sports clubs but more likely than middle class men to belong to social clubs. Many who belonged to social groups had done so for a long time and remained active in sport clubs or undertaking useful community or voluntary work.

Dr Davidson said that men saw women as key to building and keeping groups of friends and contacts and that these contracted when they were left alone through divorce, widowhood or simply because they never married.

Older men more often chat to neighbours but are less likely than women to give and receive favours, particularly if living alone. Widowers tend to rely on adult children for support. For divorced men, ties with adult children are less strong, and men who have never married also have few close relationships.

Professor Arber said: “Our research shows how masculinity continues to shape men’s experiences and activities in late life, despite the onset of ill-health, widowhood or living alone.”

Dr Davidson added: “The customary approach to health improvement has been to target individuals, but less attention has been paid to the broad picture including biological, social, cultural and economic factors that shape the way men act.”

For further information, contact Professor Sara Arber on 01483 689445 e-mail: [email protected], Dr Kate Davidson on 01483 683964 e-mail: [email protected]

Or Iain Stewart at the ESRC on 01793 413032 e-mail: [email protected]

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