The meaning of aging for women with childhood onset disabilities

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Date

2004

Authors

Harrison, Tracie C., 1968-

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of the meaning of aging for women with childhood onset disabilities. It was my aim to explore the life course of women aging with paralytic polio and to convey an account of the changes associated with aging, the strategies used to adapt to the changes, and the affects of gender on their ability to adapt to the changes. Using a hermeneutic-phenomenological methodology, 32 women with a history of paralytic polio were interviewed and audio taped 2 to 4 times for 1 to 4 hours at each interview. Of these women, 25 met the criterion needed to understand aging with impairment from childhood. The 25 women whose stories were used in the final analysis were 55 to 65 years old. The majority was Anglo (80%), married (64%), and had children (68%). The mean age of paralytic polio onset was 5.5 years of age. The majority had been diagnosed with post polio syndrome (88%), and was using some type of assistive device (88%). A thematic analysis revealed 4 themes regarding the meaning of aging: It’s Just Part of Me, Slowing Down, The Particulars of Aging, and the Journey that Changes You. Next, changes associated with aging, consequences of the changes, and strategies used to adapt to the changes were described. Finally, 2 themes emerged to describe how gender influenced their ability to adapt to the changes with aging: Perceptions of Self and Discrepancies in Womanhood. Findings indicated that perceptions of age influenced their reaction to impairment. Their ability to adapt was influenced by their ability to find synchrony between perceptions of self and their ability to act on their behalf. Impairment did not necessarily damage their ability to act on their behalf. Other life circumstances, many of which may be common to women without disabilities, combined with their impairments to influence the meaning of aging. Although the women pushed their bodies to the point of decline to achieve their chosen roles, they valued their achievements in life. Directions for future research and implications for nursing practice were discussed.

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