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Exploring the politics and practices of ‘frailty’: an ethnographic study

Project Description

The challenges of caring for older people with ill-defined, perhaps undiagnosed, health problems have recently coalesced around the concept of ‘frailty’. Often, inability to recover from a fall, infection or operation will bring frailty to the attention of healthcare providers. Although not a formal diagnosis, frailty is developing the status of a ‘syndrome’, being a constellation of clinical features that invoke fragility.

This research explores questions raised by the transition of frailty from the vernacular into the medical domain. Specifically, the research will question:

1. How does frailty shape care practices and daily life decisions? For example, is safety prioritised over quality, or independence?
2. How do we know about frailty? For example, what physiological measurements and clinical indicators are involved, how is frailty experienced, where are the absences in knowledge about frailty?
3. What are the politics of frailty? For example, does articulating the complexity of care call attention to inequitable resource distribution, helping to counter the low status of elderly care work, or does it offend and stigmatise?

Situated within a recently established perioperative frailty clinic (to which the supervisors have access) that aims to identify frailty and mitigate its effects, this study will explore these questions ethnographically. Drawing on medical sociology and science and technology studies, it will analyse the practices and politics of a newly established clinical service. It will provide insights into the experiences of patients, carers and professionals involved in this developing area of healthcare. Furthermore, this research has the capacity for direct impact by influencing the service it examines, shaping the development of a new arena of practice.

This PhD application forms part of a scheme of work which has already attracted a Sociology of Health and Illness Foundation research development grant in order to develop a collaborative application for a substantial NIHR award.

Funding Notes

Applications should be made directly to Dr Cliff Shelton and should include:

CV (max 2 A4 sides), including details of two academic references
A cover letter outlining your qualifications and interest in the studentship (max 2 A4 sides)

How good is research at Lancaster University in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 64.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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