Perceptions of relationships by functional older people living in a residential care facility
Van Tonder, André Rudolf
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This study is part of a broader research project conducted to explore the lifestyle experiences of older people, 60 years and older living in a residential facility that had adopted an active ageing approach. The study focuses on functional older people’s perceptions of relationships. The term ‘functional older people’ refers topeople who have the ability to take care of themselves, who are involved in meaningful mental and physical activities and who are mobile. Active ageing includes ongoing participation in cultural, economic spiritual and social activities. Relationshipsfor the purpose of this research are described as continuous interactions between people consisting of the subjective impact to which the participating person reacts and which sets in motion a corresponding reaction from the other. Two theoretical frameworks were used. First, the Self-Interactional Group Theory (SIGT) describes relations between people as an interactional dance that manifest on an intra-personal, interpersonal and group level. Interpersonal interactions are always informed by the broader cultural, economic, political and social environments. Second, the social convoy modelexplains how relationships develop throughout the life cycle and how they contribute to well-being. The research was approved by the Health Research Ethics Committee(HREC) of the North-West University. The researcher applied ethical guidelines as prescribed by the Health Professions Council of South Africa while the research was being conducted, and during analysis and report writing. A qualitative approach was followed to obtain older participants’ perceptions of relationships. The research was conducted in a residential facility for older people in Johannesburg, Gauteng. Data were collected using the Mmogo-method®, a visual projective data-collection method. Inapplying the method, each participant was provided with a lump of clay, dried grass stalks and different colours and sizes of beads. These unstructured materials were used to construct visual representations, promoted by an open-ended request to construct something that represents experiences of their lives as older people living in the residential facility. The World Café method was also used because it provides for all participants to take an active part in the data gathering, and the type of questionsposed stimulated ideas regarding relationships in the residential facility. Both methods were conducted in a group context and provided textual and visual data. Textual data obtained in the World Café were analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The visual data and textual data obtained from the Mmogo-method® were analysed using Roos and Redelinghuys’s six-step method.For this method the research context is clearly described and kept in mind during analysis. An empathic position is assumed in order to reflect the meanings participants attributed to visual elements. Analysis then moves to a description of the literal observation of the visual elements, following which researchers describe the symbolic meaning provided by the participants and the contexts that are spontaneously introduced by them in relation to their visual representations. In the final step of analysis the researcher provides an interpretive analysis based on insight gained in previous steps, with the aim identifying transferable knowledge. Trustworthy guidelines were applied to ensure rigour in this qualitative research study. Findings revealed four themes, namely: characteristics of interpersonal interactions, development of relationships, relational regulation, and relational interactions’ addressing needs. The characteristics of interpersonal interactions included the composition of the relational interactions, types of interpersonal contexts such as family, friends and partners, and also relational interactions that took place on a continuum ranging from emotional distance to closeness. The development of relationships included the amount of time spent in the facility and how the duration facilitates the development of relationships, as well as how people dealt with diversity. Relational regulation was expressed as the importance of regulating interpersonal interactions in a close and bounded system. In the relational interactions different needs were addressed, such as affirmation, connectedness, meaning and sense of purpose, companionship and support, which included social, emotional and instrumental support. In a residential facility that has adopted an active ageing approach, many opportunities are created for functional older people to develop and maintainand relationships, in and outside the facility and in different interpersonal contexts. As with all other relationships, these develop over time and depend on people’s preference to engage differently. However, the many opportunities for interaction anddifferent social networks that exist in a residential setting enable residents to address numerous psychosocial needs. The findings of this study will provide residential facilities, researchers and policy makers with greater insight into these positive relationships for older persons living in these setting and will indicate how to facilitate the development of such relationships. Limitations to the study were mainly that participantswere functional older people, who may already have diverse social networks, and that the participants were all white older people. Similar research projects in residential facilities with a more diverse racial profile could provide results that might be applied more generally.
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