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‘Independence’ among older people receiving support at home: the meaning of daily care practices


Later life care practices are closely entangled with the ideals of independence and dependence. Based on an interpretive analysis of qualitative interviews with 34 people aged 65–100 receiving home care in Ontario, Canada, this article explores older people's subjective interpretations of caring for themselves (i.e. independence) and receiving support from others (i.e. dependence). Findings suggest that individuals construct subjective meanings of independence in relation to their changing physical capacities, and in the context of their relationships with family members, friends and formal care providers. First, participants considered their care activities to be a way of maintaining independence when they undertook certain practices with the intention of staving off dependency and future decline. Second, when they accepted assistance, many engaged in care relations that allowed them to preserve an independent identity in the face of limits to physical self-sufficiency. Third, participants reached the limits of independence when they lacked adequate assistance, and were unable to care for themselves in desirable ways. Findings illustrate how objective circumstances related to social and financial resources as well as access to formal services shape subjective interpretations, allowing some older people to hold on to independent identities while exacerbating feelings of dependency among others.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Rachel Barken, Department of Sociology, York University, 359A York Lanes, 4700 Keele St., Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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