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A study of the self perceptions of a selected group of recently widowed older people concerning physical health and use of community health resources Butler, Ada Madeleine

Abstract

Two questions were asked by this exploratory-descriptive study. Does the older person's perception of his physical health status change following widowhood? Does the older person's pattern of contact with community health resources change following widowhood? In order to answer these questions, the study surveyed the self perceptions of a selected group of fifty recently widowed older persons to gather information concerning present physical health status and present use of community health resources, and information eliciting whether or not change in either was perceived to have occurred following widowhood. A semi-structured Research Interview Schedule was developed and used to obtain the information pertinent to the research problem. Fifty widowed persons were interviewed in their usual place of residence. All were over sixty years of age. All had been widowed more than nine but less than twelve months at the time of interview. An assumption made on the basis of experiences during the interviewing phase of the study was that the widowed persons participating in the study, when visited in their own environment, showed a desire for conversation about the loss of the spouse, the details of the loss, and the aspects of widowhood which were significant to them. The Wilcoxon-Matched Pairs Signed-Ranks Test was used to test the first hypothesis of the study. It was concluded that there was significant statistical evidence of a difference in the older person's perception of his physical health status following widowhood. A majority, or 78 percent of the study group reported an increase of physical complaints and health problems in the year following widowhood. Although most respondents had a positive attitude toward health, 28 percent of the study population reported a decline in functioning ability over the past year. Descriptive analysis was carried out in relation to the second hypothesis of the study. The study, found no reason to believe that, for the majority of older people who were able to remain in the community following widowhood, increase in health complaints and health problems was accompanied by increase in contact with community health workers. Fifteen persons, or 30 percent of the study group, reported such change and said they had no contact with any health worker over the year. Fifty percent of the study population reported contact with health workers unchanged as compared to a year ago. Fifteen of these twenty-five persons reported increase in health complaints over the year. It was concluded that, for most of the older persons in the study group, widowhood was not accompanied by change in pattern of contact with community health resources.

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