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Keywords:

  • early onset impairments;
  • chronic illness;
  • biographical disruption;
  • transitional process;
  • normal illness

Abstract

This article focuses on individuals who are growing old with chronic illnesses and early onset impairments. Their experience of illness complications, bodily and functional losses is similar to what Bury has referred to as a biographical disruption. However, whereas Bury argues that a chronic illness amounts to a critical situation for the individual, partly due to its unexpected nature, this does not apply to the participants in our two studies. A second difference concerns Bury’s implicit suggestion that the disruption is a single event that is characteristic of the early stage of a chronic illness. Repeated disruptions seemed to shape the lives of several of those interviewed. At the same time, this article challenges studies which suggest that the notion of disruption is less relevant to people in later life and to those who have experienced difficult lives, and also questions the argument that continuity rather than change characterises the lives of people who have had chronic conditions since their early years. In its approach, the article responds to Williams’ request for studies in the sociology of chronic illness that extend the predominant biographical focus on the middle years of life to both ends of the life course.