Date of Submission

6-2012

Abstract

Introduction: This thesis explored the experiences of older people participating in social support groups using a mixed method design of qualitative and quantitative paradigms with the qualitative design taking the primary data collection role.

Social support commonly refers to the availability, or actual provision of relationships, information and assistance. Instrumental support constitutes a range of services that may include domestic services, shopping, and transport. Alternatively, expressive support assists in maintaining a level of independent functioning and reduces social isolation by having contact with others. However, most support services often focus on physical functioning and disability only, and do not address emotional and psychological support (referred to as expressive support) so often required by the older adult to maintain physical and psychological well-being. Therefore, independent and functional older adults often find themselves feeling desperately lonely, socially isolated and in a state of despair as a consequence of the lack of support and contact with their peers which may result in the development of psychological problems including depression. There are limited community support services available to address these problems that reinforce the body as needing care and support but that the mind or psyche or emotions do not. This has been referred to in the philosophical literature as Cartesian dualism or mind-body split. Social support groups, where older adults engage with their peers, have the capacity to address this problem through social networking and social trust and reciprocity that facilitates social integration for mutual benefits, and in the process, builds social capital.

Aim: The two studies reported in this thesis are independent. However, the findings were compared to see if differences in group participation emerged. The aim of this study was to better understand the benefits that older adults may receive from social engagement with peers and the impact this may have on their health and well-being.

Method: The study employed a mixed method research design using hermeneutic phenomenology as the qualitative foundation to obtain a better understanding of the lived experience of older adults, and quantitative methods to provide complementary information about the benefits received from participating in groups as a means of social support, and explored the relationship of this phenomenon to their health and well-being. Data from the latter were examined utilising descriptive and inferential statistical analyses.

Findings: Group membership and peer support appear to provide a platform for achieving and maintaining emotional health and well-being enhancing social capital. Being part of the group encouraged the development of enduring relationships that offered experiences of humanness, interconnectiveness and consolidation of their social world. The findings suggest that being part of a group raises self-esteem, promotes a sense of self-worth and increases feelings of self-confidence. This culminates in a feeling of well-being that may reduce psychological morbidity and mortality. Additionally, group membership provides a forum that supports the concept of health promotion and illness prevention among this cohort of older participants.

School/Institute

School of Nursing

Document Type

Thesis

Access Rights

Open Access

Extent

329 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Faculty

Faculty of Health Sciences

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