The experience of living at home with frailty in old age : A psychosocial qualitative study
Background: With enhanced longevity, many people in late old age find themselves frail and living at home, often alone. Whilst conceptualisations vary, frailty is often used in clinical practice as a directional term, to refer to older people at particular risk of adverse health outcomes and to organise care. Investigation of the experience of being frail is a complementary and necessary addition to international research endeavours clearly to define, predict and measure frailty. Currently, there is little empirical work exploring how people over time manage being frail. Objective: The study aimed to understand the experience over time of home-dwelling older people deemed frail, in order to enhance the evidence base for person-centred approaches to frail elder care. Design: The study design combined psychosocial narrative approaches and psycho-dynamically informed observation. Data on the experience of 15 frail older people were collected by visiting them up to four times over 17 months. These data were analyzed using psychosocial analytical methods that combined case based in-depth staged analysis of narratives with psycho-dynamically informed interpretations of observational data. Setting: The study was carried out in the homes of the participants; all lived in a socio-economically diverse area of inner London. Participants: 15 participants were purposively selected for living at home, being aged 85 or older and regarded as frail by a clinical multi-disciplinary intermediate care team. Results: The findings challenge the negative terms in which frailty in older age is viewed in the predominant models. Rather, frailty is understood in terms of potential capacity - a state of imbalance in which people experience accumulated losses whilst working to sustain and perhaps create new connections. Conclusion: This study suggests that holding together loss and creativity is the ordinary, but nonetheless remarkable, experience of frail older people. For frail older people, the presence of others to engage with their stories, to recognise and value the daily rituals that anchor their experience and to facilitate creative connections is vital if they are to retain capacity and quality of life whilst being frail.