The meaning of dependence and independence of older people with a disability in Ireland

The paper presents the findings of a research study carried out in Ireland in 2006 (Murphy et al., 2007) which explored the meaning of dependence and independence for older people with a disability. The research adopted a grounded theory approach; purposive sampling was used initially with some relational sampling towards the latter interviews. The sample was comprised of 143 older people with one of six disabilities: stroke (n=20), arthritis (20), depression (20), sensory disability (20), a learning disability (24), and dementia (18). All participants lived at home, some participants required high levels of help in activities of living while others were mostly independent. An interview schedule was used to guide interviews, all of which were tape recorded and transcribed. Data was collected on levels of dependence and independence using the Katz scale. Participants recorded high levels of independence in relation to transferring (93%), toileting (92%), dressing (87%), continence (87%) and feeding (98%). The main area of dependence where participants required assistance from others was with bathing (77%). The constant comparative technique was used to analyze qualitative data. The findings of the study would suggest that participants personal definition of their independence or dependence shifted relative to others and/or improvement or worsening of their capacity People were aware of the difference between independence and dependence, but these two concepts were not always perceived as opposites. It was possible to be independent and dependent at the same time. People valued being able to do things for themselves, accepted help when necessary but wanted to reciprocate when possible. Participants used varied coping strategies to regain and retain control of their lives. Strategies to promote older peoples independence and self esteem will be explored in this paper.
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