Octogenarian’s story: Mutual aid and solitude

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Octogenarians fall a lot! Everyone around me talks about two or three falls. It is less frightening than having a stroke, but still! The consequences can be multiple and just as worrying.

I will take a personal/relational example currently experienced. This will allow me to broaden the question of the effects of crisis at these advanced ages, negative or positive effects, it depends! I had just published an article on the notion of crisis![1]

Last July 20th my companion fell down a staircase while getting the newspaper, early in the morning. She calls for help, the neighbors mobilize, help her and come to warn me (my deafness prevented me from hearing the calls!). The ambulance arrived and proceeded to hospitalize her… four fractures in her right shoulder and arm… It took several months for her to regain her right-handed skills. On July 26, I fall in my turn in another staircase at the time to go to the pharmacy, I go there all the same (emergency RV test Covid), my left arm in blood and pains all the left side . My son-in-law comes to the rescue, makes me a second bandage (!) and takes me to the doctor. No visible fractures, but strong intercostal pains (maybe a rib fracture, but inoperable!). I don’t have the Covid (good thing) but a nurse will come every day for the care (this will be the case until August 21st).

My companion is today (August 29th, her birthday, 85 years old) in a nursing home for a second month!

Alone at home, at the beginning with the help of families, friends and neighbors, who helped me to manage the shopping and the rv (I don’t have a car anymore), the food (I don’t know how to cook!), the laundry (with the person who usually helps us on this point).

I was thinking of Jacques Limoges and his book « I help myself when we help each other! S’entraider, un potentiel incommensurable »[2] that I presented on my site (www.pierretap.com) and on the Internet, and that I had to analyze! My apologies, Jacques, but we are at the peak of the crisis and not at its beginning!


At the beginning, we benefited from multiple and renewed help… but when the caregivers had the feeling that the positive routine is installed, each one is taken back by the need to manage his own affairs… and, it is quite normal. We then avoid soliciting them, so as not to « exaggerate our demands. I then call upon the paying helpers: Marc Blanco catering company which brings me at home four meals per week (13 euros each; well deserved publicity for the quality and quantity), which I complete at my grocery-baker’s (500 meters of walking in the morning, that is good, even during the heat wave!), the help for the laundry and the cleaning…

During this time, my companion participates in the demands for better food at the nursing home. This dissatisfaction with the food led her to realize that she did not want to go to a nursing home!

On the subject of retirement homes, I have already had the opportunity to show, with supporting evidence in France and Portugal, that life as a couple is not possible there[3] .

But everyone’s family would like to send one or the other to a retirement home, as the only possible answer. Welcoming the elderly at home can have contradictory effects…

In any case, I also wrote that « According to recent studies, 80% of elderly people wish to remain at home as long as possible. On the other hand 90% of people who go to live in institutions (hospices or nursing homes) do so against their own choice, usually after a hospitalization or health alarm. »[4]

A friend told me that at our age, things can go very fast! A neighbor of mine who had Alzheimer’s and was admitted to an adapted home, just died, three months later. The average time lived in an institution. In 2016 I wrote that « Three out of four residents are women, that their average age is 84 years and two months[5] , and that their average stay (i.e. life) is 2 years and 6 Months!

Well, I’ll stop this case study here, in close proximity. I have tried to function as a researcher, despite my « old skin »! As I also wrote, crisis implies decision by management of new events and effort to avoid ruptures!

[1] « Crisis and development: concept and conditions » (Researchgate, preprint, March 2022) (in my site no.

[2] 2021 Eidtion Bouquinbec

[3] Despite the rare exceptions. See for example  » Tap, P. (2016)  » The retirement home, between home and dying  » CREAI_Paca-Corse pp.17-21. (No. 329, from my website www.pierretap.com. ). See also  » Tap, P. (2011) « Corps, affectivité et sexualité avec l’avancée en âge » in Philippe Pitaud Sexualité, handicaps et vieillissement, pp. 73-117, Toulouse, Erès. Cf. page 106 and following

[4] « Me helping, you helped: From passion to compassion » Colloquium Agis/Univ. Aix-Marseille quote p..1-2 (n° 330 of my site).

[5] Well, that’s just my age now!