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Coping with ageing and failing health: A qualitative study among elderly living alone


Arvid Birkeland, Stord/Haugesund University College, Bjornsonsgate 45, 5528 Haugesund, Norway. Email:


The purpose of this study was to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how the elderly cope with being sick, unhealthy and living alone. Qualitative research interviews using a hermeneutic approach was undertaken to explore how the patients experienced coping with their daily life. Twenty patients with an average age of 82 years having different injuries and diseases were interviewed. The interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and analysed in a hermeneutical tradition of the hermeneutic circle: part–whole, pre-understanding–understanding, and primary, secondary and basic themes. Findings showed that even if physical constraints put limits on their level of activity, the elderly were able to adapt and carry out different activities that did not require any physical strength. The main coping strategy was to accept the situation, but the acceptance was often coloured by a resigned and passive acceptance. If the elderly tend to be passive and resigned, it can be necessary for the community nurses to have a more active problem-solving approach to these patients, in order to help them creating a daily rhythm with which they can feel comfortable.