Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore older adults' illness representations, their beliefs about health, and their coping perceptions of chronic spinal disability.
Methods: This qualitative descriptive study used structured interviews that were completed during a randomized trial of non-pharmacological management of spine-related disability with chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy and exercise. Dual coders conducted a descriptive thematic analysis of 50 randomly selected transcripts supported by qualitative data management software. The Common-Sense Model provided an organizing framework for coding and interpretation.
Results: Fifty participants (34 women, median age: 68 years) described 4 illness representations, 4 coping styles, and 6 coping strategies for their management of spinal disability. Illness representations formed a continuum of little-to-no health impact to bothersome symptoms to heightened symptom intensity to unmanaged pain and/or disability. Most participants adopted either self-care or self-management coping styles, but some used healthcare-seeking or fear avoidance with worsening symptoms or interference with employment or preferred activities. Participants mentioned 6 coping strategies for spinal disability. Distraction included position changes, hobbies, and supportive relationships. Limitation focused on rest and/or relaxation, restricted movements, and activity modifications. Prevention enhanced self-care knowledge, posture and/or ergonomics, nutrition, and stress management. Movement emphasized stretching, home exercise and/or walking, and exercise therapy. Palliation augmented patient comfort through the use of heat and/or ice, over-the-counter medicine, and spinal manipulation. Avoidance strategies included missing employment, stopping house and/or yard work, and prescription medication.
Conclusion: The community-dwelling older adults in this study offered varied illness representations of their chronic spinal disability. Most participants combined and personalized coping strategies to minimize pain and symptom impact; thus, representations may influence the coping styles adopted by older persons to manage their spinal conditions. A quote from a participant that pain was "a thought in the back of my mind" suggests the presence of cognitive and emotional processes that may influence individual perceptions and feelings about their spinal symptoms or conditions. These findings suggest that there may be a broader role for spine care clinicians to include teaching older people about self-management strategies to better cope with spinal disabilities.
Author keywords: Models, Biopsychosocial; Illness Behavior; Adaptation, Psychological; Chronic Disease; Geriatrics; Functional Status; Patient Acceptance of Health Care; Back Pain; Qualitative Research
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