OBJECTIVES: People living with HIV are an ageing population with an increasing prevalence of frailty. Management of frailty requires assessment, communication and information sharing with patients. However, evidence regarding the meaning of frailty for this population, and the acceptability of frailty screening, is limited. This study aimed to explore the perceptions of older people living with HIV and HIV professionals towards frailty and routine screening for frailty.
METHODS: Data collection consisted of in-depth individual qualitative interviews with older people living with HIV and focus groups with HIV professionals purposively sampled from outpatient HIV clinics in London and Brighton, UK. Verbatim pseudonymised transcripts were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis supported by NVivo.
RESULTS: A total of 45 people living with HIV were interviewed, and 12 HIV professionals participated in two focus groups. Frailty was described as a series of losses around mobility, social inclusion, independence and mental acuity, which could happen at any age. Regarding language, for people living with HIV, explicitly using the word frail was acceptable during screening when approached sensitively and alongside provision of information and support to slow the progression of frailty. However, HIV professionals described concerns about using the word frail for fear of causing distress or offence.
CONCLUSION: Professionals described frailty in terms of functional deficits, whereas people living with HIV described a loss of personhood. Although there is a clear desire among people living with HIV to be informed of their frailty status, approaching conversations about frailty with understanding and compassion is vital. To gain the most from the screening, it is essential that frailty status is shared alongside a clear plan of actionable steps in their care.