‘Thinking you're old and frail’: a qualitative study of frailty in older adults

WARMOTH Krystal, et al
Journal article citation:
Ageing and Society, 36(7), 2016, pp.1483-1500.
Cambridge University Press

Many older adults experience what is clinically recognised as frailty but little is known about the perceptions of, and attitudes regarding, being frail. This qualitative study explored adults' perceptions of frailty and their beliefs concerning its progression and consequences. Twenty-nine participants aged 66–98 with varying degrees of frailty, residing either in their homes or institutional settings, participated in semi-structured interviews. Verbatim transcripts were analysed using a Grounded Theory approach. Self-identifying as ‘frail’ was perceived by participants to be strongly related to their own levels of health and engagement in social and physical activity. Being labelled by others as ‘old and frail’ contributed to the development of a frailty identity by encouraging attitudinal and behavioural confirmation of it, including a loss of interest in participating in social and physical activities, poor physical health and increased stigmatisation. Using both individual and social context, different strategies were used to resist self-identification. The study provides insights into older adults' perceptions and attitudes regarding frailty, including the development of a frailty identity and its relationship with activity levels and health. The implications of these findings for future research and practice are discussed. (Publisher abstract)

Subject terms:
vulnerable adults, health, older people, self-concept, attitudes, behaviour, wellbeing;
Content type:
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