|dc.description.abstract||This article investigates the experience of loneliness among a group of elderly ladies. Elderly persons are making up an increasing portion of the population. Research is therefore important, because loneliness is a threat to quality of life and indicates a bad prognosis during aging. Aging is associated with a decline in the different abilities and body functions. It is marked by changes and multidimensional losses that often imply the redefinition of roles. Little research is available that explores the subjective experiences of elderly women. It was decided to do a qualitative, phenomenological study on the experiences of loneliness among white Afrikaans-speaking women. A phenomenological research approach enables the researcher to discover participants' perceptions, experiences and unique understanding of what loneliness involves.
The research was undertaken in the context of a service centre where functioning elderly ladies voluntarily participated in the research. Fifteen elderly ladies were involved in the research by means of purposeful sampling, and their experiences of loneliness were shared through visual clay projections (known as the Mmogo method™), a focus group discussion, individual interviews and journal entries. The Mmogo method™ attaches value to the symbolic, contextual foundation of meanings and provides valuable information about socially constructed aspects that are often difficult to verbalise. Various guidelines were followed to ensure the reliability of the findings, such as the triangulation of data sources, checking the findings with the participants, an extended period in the research field and the inclusion of rich descriptions to corroborate the findings.
Two central themes emerged from the thematic data analysis process, namely causes of loneliness and strategies to deal with loneliness. The causes of loneliness which were identified, point towards multiple losses at a personal level, interpersonal losses, changed family relations and a world of living that keeps getting smaller. The strategies to deal with loneliness were indicated by elderly women as the actualising of religion, reminiscing on the past, an active involvement in life and denial.
The most important contribution made by this research is the discovery that elderly white ladies experience an intimate loss of the "self" because their own identity was strongly associated with the specific roles and functions that were defined by the socio-cultural context in which they were socialised. These functions and roles emphasised the ultimate authority of the man, as opposed to women's dependence and subjection. In this process, women did not develop an independent identity that could continue once the prescribed traditional roles no longer applied. Another interesting finding is that elderly women find it comforting to reminisce on the past and they also find that the knowledge they gain from the experience can be applied in their lives again.
This study could possibly have been extended to elderly women in other cultures, in order to obtain a richer description of the research phenomenon. Various practical suggestions were made to the service centre to support elderly women to process the multiple losses, to question socially acceptable roles and functions of women and to create own interests.||