Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"Worried about Them When We Left": A Mixed-Methods Essay

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

"Worried about Them When We Left": A Mixed-Methods Essay

Article excerpt

Seniors in the United States (US) account for approximately 13% of the population, an estimated 40.3 million people; of which nearly 1/3 of non-institutionalized older adults live alone (Leahy et al., 2012; US Department of Commerce, 2011). By 2030, it is expected that seniors will make up roughly 19% of the US population (Leahy et al., 2012; US Department of Commerce, 2011). As many as 85% of older adults, age 65 and older, report having at least one chronic illness (Frosch, Rincon, Ochoa, & Mangione, 2010). Despite this growing demographic, coupled with their healthcare related needs, few studies have been conducted examining fire safety and burn prevention practices among older adults living in the US (e.g., Shields et al., 2013). The majority of fire safety and burn prevention studies have focused on the pediatric population, primarily school-aged children. The few studies that have examined older adults (e.g., Broerse, Zweekhorst, van Rensen, & de Haan, 2009; Taira et al., 2011) have either conducted retrospective studies or focused largely on burn survivors. In this study, we conducted a prospective, ethnographic study examining fire safety practices among older adults.

For many years sociologists and anthropologists have been using visual techniques such as photography to examine and understand the social and cultural world around us. Photo-inquiry is a technique in which photographs are systematically presented to participants by the researcher to provide an analysis of a specific area of study. The images in this case documented older adults' home fire safety (HFS) behaviors. The US Fire Administration (USFA) has specific criteria to determine if a home is safe for older adults (US Fire Administration [USFA], ND).

Sometimes photographic documentation is elicited from the participant; however, in this ethnographic exemplar we were trying to tell the story in a narrative that introduced a problematic area of safety in older adults living in the community. National and local initiatives are exploring better ways to enable older adults to safely "age in place" avoiding potentially irreversible pain and suffering. Most of those injuries are falls in individuals 65 and older causing further limitations and costly procedures later in life (Frosch, Rincon, Ochoa, & Mangione, 2010). Risk and severity of fire and scald injury increase with age (Peck, 2011). Although the risks for injury and death are well documented (Peck, 2011), little has been done to evaluate the presence of counter measures in the homes of older adults. The goal of this study was to describe, via photographic inquiry, the home fire safety knowledge and behaviors of older urban dwellers.

Specific Aims

The primary aim of this project was to describe, using photographs, the HFS hazards found in the homes of urban older adults (over 50 years of age) during a HFS check. Another aim was to take the photographs and analyze them using qualitative research techniques to identify common themes and gain a better understanding of the HFS environment in a group of urban seniors. The final aim was to integrate findings from the HFS Checklist into the thematic photographic data.

Photographic Inquiry as a Research Method

Collier (1996, 1967) describes photography as a tool or instrument that facilitates "holistic and accurate" observation allowing for meaningful research. He further believes photography is a visual record of selective information that allows for comparison and augments field observations. Using photographs increases the possibilities for critical analysis and provides a "control" for visual observations. Photographs are excellent for qualifying contextual relationships that are usually missed in categorized written notes (Collier, 1996, 1967). Through photography, it is possible to learn to see through native eyes; every culture and social group creates their own perceptual world (Collier, 1996, 1967). …

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