• chronic illness;
  • elderly;
  • humanities;
  • isolation;
  • role change;
  • hope;
  • paradoxical inertia–movement;
  • energy;
  • nursing science;
  • Parse

Masterworks of art and chronic illness experiences in the elderly

Aim. This article presents findings of a qualitative study, conducted between 1997 and 2000, to investigate the plausibility of integrating masterworks of art with care of the chronically ill elderly, and to analyse perceptions about chronic illness among three groups: registered nurses, nursing students, and the elderly.

Background and significance. Statistically the incidence of chronic illness increases in the elderly. Although pathophysiology of chronic illness is increasingly understood, few studies explore the experience of living with chronicity from the perspective of the elderly. Understanding and intervening appropriately for the elderly with chronic illness may contribute significantly to improving quality of life for this growing population.

Ethical issues and approval. The study was approved through an Institutional Review Board. Facility permission and participant informed consent were obtained. Anonymity and confidentiality were protected.

Design. Using hermeneutic phenomenology and masterworks of art as a centre point for dialogue, the investigators explored the perceptions of nurses, students, and the elderly about living with a chronic illness. A purposive sample of 65 participants made up seven focus groups with which group interviews were conducted. Themes were explicated and analysed from audiotaped interviews until data saturation was reached.

Findings. Content analysis of focus group interviews revealed themes of social isolation, inevitable role change, and inertia–movement. Only the elderly acknowledged hope and a steadfast refusal to give up, while nurses and students viewed chronicity more negatively. Themes of social isolation and role change are consistent with other studies of the elderly. A paradox of inertia–movement in the chronically ill elderly has not been reported in the nursing literature.

Conclusions. Paradoxical tension of inertia–movement in the chronically ill elderly appears to be linked to the broader concept of energy in nursing science, and to Parse’s theory of human becoming. Masterworks of art can generate energy exchange between the elderly and caregivers, providing a plausible catalyst for meaningful interventions that transcend age and practice settings.