Background: Every day, older adults living with heart failure make decisions regarding their health that may ultimately affect their disease trajectory. Experts describe these decisions as instances of naturalistic decision making influenced by the surrounding social and physical environment and involving shifting goals, high stakes, and the involvement of others.
Objective: This study applied a naturalistic decision-making approach to better understand everyday decision making by older adults with heart failure.
Methods: We present a cross-sectional qualitative field research study using a naturalistic decision-making conceptual model and critical incident technique to study health-related decision making. The study recruited 24 older adults with heart failure and 14 of their accompanying support persons from an ambulatory cardiology center. Critical incident interviews were performed and qualitatively analyzed to understand in depth how individuals made everyday health-related decisions.
Results: White, male (66.7%), older adults' decision making accorded with a preliminary conceptual model of naturalistic decision making occurring in phases of monitoring, interpreting, and acting, both independently and in sequence, for various decisions. Analyses also uncovered that there are barriers and strategies affecting the performance of these phases, other actors can play important roles, and health decisions are made in the context of personal priorities, values, and emotions.
Conclusions: Study findings lead to an expanded conceptual model of naturalistic decision making by older adults with heart failure. In turn, the model bears implications for future research and the design of interventions grounded in the realities of everyday decision making.
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