Human spirit as a meaningful experience to the elderly: A phenomenological study




Trice, Lucy

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The problem of the study was to determine the essential structure of an experience from life during which the elderly derive a sense of meaning to life as a manifestation of the human spirit. The data gathered were also examined for classification of the descriptions into the categories postulated in Frankl's (1966) theory of the will to meaning as being categories into which meaningful experiences may be grouped. The study was primarily qualitative, utilizing a phenomenological approach. Individuals ranging in age from 65 to 87 years were interviewed to obtain descriptions of life experiences through which were derived a sense that life was meaningful. Persons were interviewed until common themes emerged. The sample was one of availability and consisted of 11 participants, 9 female and 2 male. The descriptions obtained from the participants were analyzed according to Colaizzi's (1978) seven-step method. The essential structure of a meaningful experience to the elderly was identified, with the common themes being concern for others, helpfulness, action, and positiveness. The experiences related were all classifiable into Frankl's categories of creative action, experiential receptivity, and attitude toward condition in life, thus supporting that Frankl's categories are indeed the categories into which meaningful experiences may be placed. The data also offered preliminary support for the framework of the human spirit developed by Trice (1983). Trice's framework includes the critical attributes of essence, vision, action, and zeal. Implications for nursing included the suggestion that nurses adopt a broader view of the human spirit to incorporate the facet of meaning to life. Nurses need to assess the meaning to life aspect in clients as well as consciously plan care aimed at promoting, maintaining, and restoring a sense of meaning to life. Recommendations for further study entailed repeating the study on a sample of elderly men to determine validity of the structure for elderly men as well as elderly women. Also, the study should be repeated on other ethnic and age groups to ascertain if the structure is unique to one age or culture, or perhaps universal.



Elderly, Human spirit, Life experiences