Aging in America by Brett Phelps

Junior Visual Journalism & Photography major Brett Phelps  has spent the past year documenting 87-year-old Billy Salsman as she struggles to live on her own as a childless widow. Her failing health and loneliness is taking a toll on her making day to day life a challenge.

Eighty-seven-year-old Billie Salsman is among the 6 million Americans age 85 or older. She has no children and has lived alone since she became widowed in 2008. Salsman has a multitude of health issues and has recently suffered from three strokes that have affected her speech, swallowing, and mental processing. She lives on a limited retirement income and cannot afford to reside in an assisted living or nursing home facility without losing her home. Salsman’s social life is limited to the neighbors who drive her to the grocery store and doctors appointments and the therapists who provide in-home services To combat her loneliness, Salsman passes the time reading the Bible and researching her family’s genealogy, as Salsman no longer attends in-person church services. Salsman credits her longevity to her Christian faith, “You must remember the word ‘joy.’ Put Jesus first, then others, and then yourself.”

Eighty-seven-year-old Billie Salsman selects a necklace to wear to her doctor’s appointment at her home in Hodgenville, Kentucky on April 7, 2023. According to Salsman, her husband gave her jewelry for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas over the years. “I enjoy dressing up on occasion, but it’s hard for me to with my arthritis.”


Salsman winces in pain as she uses an assistive device to pull her leg into the bed at her home in Hodgenville, Kentucky on the evening of April 6, 2023. “I sleep with my Bible, and sometimes when I hurt bad, I beg God to relieve the pain. I take my Bible and lay it on that spot. And you know, I soon doze off to sleep.”

To stay close to God and to combat loneliness, Salsman reads her Bible at her home in Hodgenville, Kentucky on April 23, 2023. Salman reflected, “God is the word. I feel close to him when I read my Bible.”


Salsman takes a moment to reflect at her late husband’s tombstone in Hodgenville, Kentucky on April 9, 2023. “My companion, James Salsman, died on September 17, 2008. He was a good Christian husband, and I thank God that he chose such a good person for me. I miss him. I miss him bad,” shares Salsman.


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