Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



This report contains the findings of a study carried out by the Gerontology Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston concerning the effects of the escalating fuel costs on the lives of the elderly who must pay for their own heat. Through the use of an interview format known as "modified critical incident" technique, a team of mostly elderly students spent several weeks during the winter of 1980 eliciting responses from more than 100 elderly individuals from throughout the greater Boston area. Not surprisingly , this study has revealed a number of profound impacts that the radical turn of economic events has already had on the lives of older Americans.

To begin, standards of living must be adjusted as a larger proportion of the monthly budget is spent on fuel. Living arrangements change as the thermostat is lowered and utilized living areas are reduced by closing off rooms to conserve fuel. Nutrition is often sacrificed for warmth. Health frequently suffers as a result, with colder room temperatures further aggravating certain perennial afflictions of old age, such as arthritis. Social contacts diminish as mobility lessens. Cars become an unaffordable luxury Embarrassment over the coldness of the home and concern over visitors' health in such cold are additional disincentives to entertaining. Pride in oneself, as a self-sufficient person, as a hospitable person, as a responsible member of society, falters.

In this timely report, the researchers rely heavily on the words of the elderly themselves to describe the circumstances and conditions they have experienced most recently. Selections from these interviews have been grouped thematically with sections on general trends and recommendations included.

After listening to the elderly, their message has become painfully clear: something has gone terribly wrong and these people have become the unfortunate victims. The important question remains, however, who is listening and willing to do something about it!?



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