A Qualitative Descriptive Study of the Needs of Older Adults Recently Diagnosed with Cancer
University of Kansas
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Adults aged 65 years and older are the population most often diagnosed with cancer. Although much research has been conducted on a person’s adjustment to a cancer diagnosis, there has not been a direct focus on older adults’ perceptions of their needs following a cancer diagnosis. The significance of the problem of inattention to the unique needs of older adults at their time of cancer diagnosis relates to a number of national organizational missions and goals, including Healthy People 2020, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Institute of Medicine, the Oncology Nursing Society, and the Geriatric Oncology Consortium. This research used naturalistic inquiry within the constructivist paradigm. The goal was to explore the needs experienced by older adults (65 years and older) diagnosed with cancer within the past four months using a descriptive qualitative design. The intent of this research is to explore the needs of older adults, thereby discovering opportunities to enhance the access to comprehensive care in the older population. Literature findings related to maintaining independence, coping with the diagnosis, social support, and financial concerns provided the context for exploring factors associated with the experience of the older adult diagnosed with cancer. This research involved 14 Midwestern older adult participants, with an average age of 69 and who were an average of 9 weeks from cancer diagnosis. The participants completed semi-structured interviews, and data from the interviews and researcher field notes were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. It is from this process that the themes and categories of the study emerged. The study’s three themes include: (a) The Cancer Health Care Experience: Interactions with providers that are generally positive but not without disappointments, (b) Challenges in Managing the Cancer Experience: Barriers to feeling normal and hurdles to overcome, and (c) Coping with the Cancer Experience: Handling the cancer journey with mental adaptation and external support. These themes covered twelve categories including: Excellent Care, Trusting and Respecting Providers, Disappointments in Healthcare, A New Experience, What the Patient Brings to the Table, Desire for Control, Physical Limitations, Emotional Strain, Positive Outlook, Thinking of Others, Support and Encouragement, and Reflection. Implications include using these findings: (a) to meet the needs of older adults who recently have been diagnosed with cancer; (b) to integrate health care delivery teams; (c) to facilitate the maintenance of self-identity and control among older adults; (d) to improve training for healthcare providers on patient financial and workforce concerns; and (e) to explore further research with additional perspectives and broader samples.
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