Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Loneliness is a threat to quality of life and indicates a poor prognosis during aging. A qualitative, phenomenological study among white Afrikaans-speaking older women was conducted to explore their experience of loneliness. The research was undertaken at a service centre for elderly persons where cognitively sound older women voluntarily participated in the research. Fifteen women were purposefully selected to obtain their experience of loneliness via their own visual projections (the Mmogo methodTM), a focus group discussion, individual interviews, as well as personal journal entries. The Mmogo methodTM provides valuable information about socially constructed aspects that are often difficult to verbalise. Various guidelines were followed to ensure the trustworthiness of the study, such as triangulation of data, member checking, an extended period in the field and the inclusion of rich descriptions. Two central themes emerged from the thematic data analysis, being causes of loneliness (including multiple losses at a personal level as well as interpersonal losses; changed family relations and a downsized living world) and strategies to deal with loneliness (such as the actualising of religion, reminiscing on the past, an active involvement in life and denial). The most important finding of this research is that older white Afrikaans speaking women experience an intimate loss of the "self" because their identity is strongly associated with the specific roles and functions defined by the socio-cultural context in which they were socialised. These functions and roles emphasised the ultimate authority of the man. Women did not develop an independent identity that could continue once the prescribed traditional roles no longer applied. Practical steps are suggested in order to support elderly women to process the multiple losses, to question socially acceptable roles and functions of women, and to create independent interests. Further studies could possibly be extended to older women in other cultures.
Keywords : Elderly persons; elderly women; loneliness; phenomenology; identity; roles; social roles; silent generation; Mmogo-method.