The Meaning of “Independence” for Older People in Different Residential Settings

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Drawing on older people’s understandings of “independence” and Collopy’s work on autonomy, the article elaborates an interpretive framework of the concept in relation to 3 residential settings—the private dwelling-home, the extra-care, and the residential-care settings.


Data include 91 qualitative interviews with frail, older people living in each setting, collected as part of a larger Welsh study. Thematic analysis techniques were employed to identify patterns in meanings of independence across settings and then interpreted using Collopy’s conceptualizations of autonomy, as well as notions of space and interdependencies.


Independence has multiple meanings for older people, but certain meanings are common to all settings: Accepting help at hand; doing things alone; having family, friends, and money as resources; and preserving physical and mental capacities. Concepts of delegated, executional, authentic, decisional, and consumer autonomy, as well as social interdependencies and spatial and social independence, do provide appropriate higher order interpretive constructs of these meanings across settings.


A broader interpretive framework of “independence” should encompass concepts of relative independence, autonomy(ies), as well as spatial and social independence, and can provide more nuanced interpretations of structured dependency and institutionalization theories when applied to different residential settings.

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