IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Living on the margin: Understanding the experience of living and dying with frailty in old age

Listed author(s):
  • Nicholson, C.
  • Meyer, J.
  • Flatley, M.
  • Holman, C.
  • Lowton, K.
Registered author(s):

    Within policy and practice there is an increasing interest in the care of frail elders. However understanding of the experience and challenges of living and dying with frailty in older age is currently undeveloped. Frailty is often used as a synonym for the increasing infirmities that accompany ageing and the slow dwindling dying trajectory of many elders. However, there is little empirical work on the experience of being frail to inform social gerontological perspectives and welfare provision. Through analysis of repeated in-depth interviews over 17 months (2006–2008) with 17 frail elders living at home in the U.K., key factors that shape elders’ experience of being frail emerged. The study argues that the visible markers of functional limitations and the increasing social losses of old age bring finitude to the fore. To retain anchorage in this state of imbalance, frail elders work actively to develop and sustain connections to their physical environment, routines and social networks. This experience can be conceptualised as persistent liminality; a state of imbalance “betwixt and between” active living and clinically recognised dying. This paper highlights the precarious and often protracted dying trajectory of frail older people. Whilst it could be argued that developing into death in older age is part of a normal and successful course after a life long-lived, recognition of and support for older people deemed frail is lacking. Frail elders find themselves living in the margin between the Third and Fourth Age with little recognition of or support for the work of living and dying over time. This experience of frailty contests dominant cultural and welfare practices and policy frameworks that operate in binary modes: social or health; independent or dependent; living or dying.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

    Volume (Year): 75 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 8 ()
    Pages: 1426-1432

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:8:p:1426-1432
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.06.011
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    Order Information: Postal:

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    in new window

    1. Little, Miles & Jordens, Christopher FC & Paul, Kim & Montgomery, Kathleen & Philipson, Bertil, 1998. "Liminality: a major category of the experience of cancer illness," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 47(10), pages 1485-1494, November.
    2. Seymour, Jane & Gott, Merryn & Bellamy, Gary & Ahmedzai, Sam H. & Clark, David, 2004. "Planning for the end of life:: the views of older people about advance care statements," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 57-68, July.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:8:p:1426-1432. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.