The Everyday Life of Women Ages 85 and Older Living Alone in Their Own Residences Who Receive Help

Wednesday, July 13, 2011: 4:25 PM

Karen Hahn, PhD, RN, APN
Center for Faith and Health Initiatives, Houston, TX

Learning Objective 1: he learner will be able to describe the unique contribution which ethnography can make to nursing inquiry and theory development using this case example.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to describe the methodological steps in Spradley’s systematic ethnography as illustrated and presented in this study.


This ethnographic study explored the everyday life of women 85 and older living alone in their own residences with physical limitations who receive help.


Four urban women ages 86-92 of African-American, Cuban-American, and European-American ethnicity were visited every 2 weeks in their own residences for five months.   Participant observation and semi-structured interview sessions were conducted during home visits and phone calls by a research nurse of ethnicity similar to the respondent.

Spradley’s systematic method of data collection and data analysis was continuous throughout the study.  Data analysis followed Spradley’s developmental sequence: identification of key units, taxonomic analyses, identifying the relationships between those units, domain and componential analysis, and then identifying the overall cultural theme.


The overall cultural theme which described their everyday life was: managing the business of daily living. The theme “managing the business of” summarizes the everyday life experience of these women, filled with the multiple responsibilities of caring for themselves, maintaining a household, tending to important relationships, and preserving autonomy within the reality of physical vulnerability.

None of these women described themselves as frail. “Living alone” was used by these women in reference to the experience of inadequate support rather than a living arrangement. The autonomy of staying in one’s own place was more important than living longer. Help was described as a mutual exchange of services rather than receiving help. The belief that “God takes care of me” supported them in caring for themselves and others. Relationships with God and family were most important to them.


The everyday life of these women highlighted management, functional, and transcendent spiritual dimensions rather than the frailty construct more commonly used by health professionals  Respecting and receiving the wisdom of those who live long and well can help society plan for healthy aging for all.