‘Meaning in Frailty’ research to aid aged care

New Charles Sturt University research into frailty will inform policy and practice for the care of frail older people.


The Charles Sturt research report ‘Finding meaning in the lived experience of frailty’ examined the experiences of 25 frail older people with an average age of 83 years.


The research was led by Reverend Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay, the Colloquium for Ageing Perspectives and Spirituality (CAPS) in the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, and the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology, at Charles Sturt University.


Professor MacKinlay emphasised that new knowledge on the experience of frailty is important to guide clinical practice for the multidisciplinary teams who provide services and care for frail older adults, especially under the new Quality Aged Care Guidelines, which came into effect on 1 July 2019.


“While a great deal of research has been conducted into frailty over the last couple of decades, it has focused on biomedical and, to a smaller extent, on psychosocial aspects of frailty,” Professor MacKinlay said.


“In recent decades interest in frailty as a condition of later life has increased greatly, with questions continuing to be debated as to whether this is a separate entity of ageing and also to its relationship to disability and other chronic illnesses.


“An alternative view of ageing is the construct of inner strength as important to mental health and wellbeing, as identified in recent Scandinavian literature in nursing.”


Professor MacKinlay said adding to the debate on frailty was a paper in the Lancet journal, which considered implications for clinical practice and public health of frailty, and highlighted frailty as a global health burden.


“However, frailty is not only a physical and psychosocial concern, but is a condition affecting the whole human being in relation to the wellbeing of self and others,” Professor MacKinlay said.


“There remains a serious lack of study into the spiritual and emotional aspects of frailty to this time, and this project presents a perspective of the lived experience of frailty, highlighting the spiritual dimension.”


Professor MacKinlay explained that the research examined individuals’ stories because story is central to human being and meaning, as it is through story that we connect with each other, and it is an essential component of our identity.


“Frail older people are at a crucial stage of their life journey; making sense of this journey becomes an important spiritual task,” she said.


“How older people connect with their stories, and how stories connect them with loved ones and those who care for them will make real differences in the quality of lives for these frail people.


“Increasing the health literacy for older people in prevention of frailty may do much to increase the quality of life for older people, and to reduce the number of years experienced in frailty.


“Staff training in this regard for the care of frail older people needs to be set up throughout the aged care industry.


“However, this research is only a beginning to further study of this important area, especially as issues of quality of life and the process of dying and older people and issues of person-assisted suicide are on the public agenda.”


5 July 2020.