Older persons' existential loneliness, as interpreted by their significant others: an interview study

Helena Larsson, Margareta Rämgard, Ingrid Bolmsjö

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22 Citeringar (Scopus)


Background: In order to better understand people in demanding medical situations, an awareness of existential concerns is important. Studies performed over the last twenty years conclude that when dying and death come closer, as in the case with older people who are stricken by infirmity and diseases, existential concerns will come to the fore. However, studies concerning experiences of existential loneliness (EL) are sparse and, in addition, there is no clear definition of EL. EL is described as a complex phenomenon and referred to as a condition of life, an experience, and a process of inner growth. Listening to someone who knows the older person well, as significant others often do, may be one way of learning more about EL. Methods: This study is part of a larger research project on EL, the LONE study, where EL is explored through interviews with frail older people, their significant others and health care professionals. The aim of this study was to explore frail older (> 75) persons' EL, as interpreted by their significant others. The study is qualitative and based on eighteen narrative interviews with nineteen significant others of older persons. The data was analysed using Hsieh and Shannon's conventional content analysis. Results: According to the interpretation of significant others, the older persons experience EL (1) when they are increasingly limited in body and space, (2) when they are in a process of disconnecting, and (3) when they are disconnected from the outside world. Conclusion: The result can be understood as if the frail older person is in a process of letting go of life. This process involves the body, in that the older person is increasingly limited in his/her physical abilities. The older person's long-term relationships are gradually lost, and finally the process entails the older person's increasingly withdrawing into him- or herself and turning off the outside world. The result of this study is consistent with previous research that has shown that EL is a complex phenomenon, but the implications of this research include a deepened understanding of EL. In addition, the study highlights the interpretations of significant others.

TidskriftBMC Geriatrics
StatusPublicerad - 2017

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