48.1 Aging, frailty, and intimacy: The gendered experience of close relationships among adults 75+ who have multiple chronic conditions

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 10:45 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Laura HURD CLARKE , University of British Columbia, Canada
Erica BENNETT , School of Kinesiology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
The majority of older adults will experience at least one chronic condition in later life and the average number of chronic conditions has been found to increase with age.  In this paper we examine how older men and women who have multiple chronic conditions perceive and experience intimate relationships, including sexuality, friendship, and familial ties.  We draw on data from multiple interviews with 19 women and 16 men, aged 73 to 91, who had a range of range of three to 13 chronic conditions (with most individuals reporting an average of six health problems).  The most commonly reported chronic conditions included:  arthritis (28), back problems (26), heart disease (24), cataracts/glaucoma (14), and cancer (12).  Mirroring demographic trends, most of the men (n=11) in our study were partnered, whereas the majority of the women (n= 17) were single.  Our analysis revealed that the participants’ discussions of intimacy were underscored by the social and physical realities of their health issues, their marital statuses, existing social support resources, and experiences of social isolation.  Additionally, the participants’ stories and the meanings they attributed to their intimate relationships reflected gender norms.  While the men’s perceptions and negotiation of intimacy were framed by masculinity norms (including the privileging of autonomy, invulnerability, physical prowess, stoicism, and self-reliance), the women’s experiences were shaped by femininity norms (such as the importance placed on appearance as well as on being nurturing, cheerful, family oriented, selfless, and sensitive to the needs of others).  We consider our findings in relation to Laz’s (2003) concept of doing age and West and Zimmerman’s (1987) concept of doing gender as well as with respect to the existing literature concerning intimacy, friendship patterns, intergenerational relationships, health, and gender in later life.