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Older adults’ perceptions of weakness and ageing


  • Kathy L. Rush RN, PhD,

  • Wilda E. Watts BSN, MN,

  • Janice Stanbury MSN, GNC(C), RN

Kathy L. Rush
School of Nursing
University of British Columbia Okanagan
3333 University Way-AS284
BC V1V 1V7
Telephone: +250 807 9561


Background.  Age-related weakness, or sarcopenia, has been related to functional disability, falls, frailty and mortality. Although it is one of the most common symptoms older adults link to their functional abilities, to date, no studies have explored older adults’ perceptions of weakness and its association with ageing.

Aims and objectives.  To understand the meaning of weakness for older adults’ and their perceptions of its association with ageing.

Designs.  A qualitative descriptive design involved in-depth interviews with 13 community-dwelling older adults.

Results.  Weakness was described primarily in two ways: (i) inability and (ii) inward turning. The extreme of weakness, as giving up and giving in, which older adults applied to others, not themselves, prompted them to engage in several efforts at staying strong. These included motivating self-talk, achieving balance, keeping busy and active, and self-validating as a strong person. Older adults’ perceptions of the association between weakness and ageing were variable and characterized by considerable ambiguity.

Implications for practice.  Nurses must be alert to both the visible and subtler dimensions of weakness. It is important to engage older adults in active strategies that enhance muscle strength while capitalizing on their self-motivating and validating efforts at staying strong.