Finding a 'new normal' following acute illness: A qualitative study of influences on frail older people's care preferences

Palliat Med. 2019 Mar;33(3):301-311. doi: 10.1177/0269216318817706. Epub 2018 Dec 7.


Background:: The frail older population is growing, and many frail older people have episodes of acute illness. Patient preferences are increasingly considered important in the delivery of person-centred care and may change following acute illness.

Aim:: To explore influences on the care preferences of frail older people with recent acute illness.

Design:: Qualitative in-depth individual interviews, with thematic analysis.

Setting/participants:: Maximum variation sample of 18 patients and 7 nominated family carers from a prospective cohort study of people aged over 65, scoring ⩾5 on the Clinical Frailty Scale, and with recent acute illness, who were not receiving specialist palliative care. Median patient age was 84 (inter-quartile range 81–87), 53% female. Median frailty score 6 (inter-quartile range 5–7).

Results:: Key influences on preferences were illness and care context, particularly hospital care; adaptation to changing health; achieving normality and social context. Participants focused on the outcomes of their care; hence, whether care was likely to help them ‘get back to normal’, or alternatively ‘find a new normal’ influenced preferences. For some, acute illness inhibited preference formation. Participants’ social context and the people available to provide support influenced place of care preferences. We combined these findings to model influences on preferences.

Conclusion:: ‘Getting back to normal’ or ‘finding a new normal’ are key focuses for frail older people when considering their preferences. Following acute illness, clinicians should discuss preferences and care planning in terms of an achievable normal, and carefully consider the social context. Longitudinal research is needed to explore the influences on preferences over time.

Keywords: Preferences; aged; frailty; hospitalisation; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology*
  • Acute Disease / nursing*
  • Acute Disease / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nursing Care / psychology*
  • Patient Preference / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life / psychology*