BACKGROUND: An increasing number of the ageing population worldwide is at risk of becoming frail and incapacitated. This has the potential to impact not only on the well-being of individuals but also on the sustainability of healthcare systems.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to explore the views and experiences of frailty from the perspective of primary care professionals, including nurses, who work directly with older people within the community.
METHODS: A qualitative approach with a descriptive phenomenological methodology was used, which focused on exploration of primary care professionals' current experiences of early detection and prevention of the onset of frailty. Four multi-professional focus groups were held with a total of thirty-three primary care professionals who worked with older people as part of their daily role. Participants included district nurses, general practitioners, home care workers, physiotherapists and social workers.
RESULTS: Professional views encompassed typical patterns of ageing, loneliness, presence of comorbidity, disability and end of life, with social conditions prevalent in most frailty they encountered. Three main themes emerged: the psychosocial nature of frailty, late detection of frailty and barriers to the feasibility of prevention. Physical frailty was considered a constituent part of ageing, which recognised the presence of a skills gap related to the detection of the early signs of frailty. Present health and social care systems are not designed to prevent frailty, and the competencies required by health and social care professionals are not usually included as part of their training curricula. This may hinder opportunities to intervene to prevent associated decline in ability of older adults.
CONCLUSIONS: To enhance the early assessment of frailty and the planning of preventive multi-factorial interventions in primary care and community settings, training and effective detection strategies should be incorporated into the role and daily care activities of primary care professionals.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Using a multidimensional assessment instrument can help primary care professionals to identify older people who are frail or may become frail. In order to be able to carry out this properly strong inter-professional collaboration is needed. In addition, interventions aimed at preventing frailty or adverse outcomes of frailty should be tailor-made and thus should meet the needs and wishes of an older person.