‘Holding on to life’: An ethnographic study of living well at home in old age

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In recent years, much attention has been paid to how older people living at home can remain independent and manage their illness themselves, while less attention has been given to those who have become frail and need assistance with challenges of everyday life. In this article, I drew on Latimer's formulation of care for frail older people as relational and world-making and on Foucault's work related to the care of the self in developing an understanding of how frail older persons manage to live well at home in the final years of their lives. I use data from an ethnographic study of home care nursing in the homes of 15 frail older people to develop an understanding of how their care at home can be developed. The participants were holding on to life, which reflected their vitality and vulnerability as well as agency in continuing to explore ways to preserve and build their world at home. With declining ability and stamina relations with material things, relatives and official care workers become of central importance in holding on to life. Home care services can be thought of as part of life, as world-forming, where workers contribute to daily activities that support living well at home.

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