Rationale The aim of this pilot study was to explore the personal meanings of frailty within a purposive sample of older patients who had fallen, needed an Emergency Ambulance Service response and were subsequently referred to a falls service. A systematic literature review indicated that no qualitative studies had been carried out within such a sample previously.
Methods The qualitative methodology used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis; which explored the essential nature of frailty as a phenomenon though a series of subjective narrative accounts generated by focused interviews. Employing a reflexive approach to the analysis allowed completion of a participant-centred and ethically sound study.
Results Analysis of six focused interviews with older adults provided a thick description which highlighted five themes: Adaptations to frailty, Focus on confidence as psychological frailty, A changing lifeworld-towards social frailty, Reconciling a frail future and Frailty as stigma. These themes were discussed in relation to sociological literature including theories concerning transitions from the third to fourth age, liminality and social death, frailty as stigma and frailty as lived and frailty as applied.
Implications This sample of patients represented a group in transition. They occupied a liminal zone situated between the third and fourth age and while acknowledging oldness, they actively challenged biomedical assumptions of frailty through an emphasis on control and individual agency. This study enables paramedics to modulate their communications when encountering elders who reject the notion of frailty as a term applied. For service design, the results allow the voice of the patient group to be heard, so that solutions can be designed in an inclusive, rather than hierarchical fashion. Significantly, this thesis forms part of an emerging body of evidence that questions the usefulness of the term frailty as experienced by this sample of participants.
- prehospital care
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