Shifts in Students’ Attitudes Toward Elders Through Service Learning With Well and Frail Elders

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Often instructors in gerontology skip or gloss over topics that are considered challenging to teach, whether the difficulty is lack of knowledge on the subject or a topic that might be considered immoral, morbid, icky or “taboo.” As gerontologists, we struggle to overcome ageism and provide a realistic picture of the life of older adults for our students. Sometimes this desire to paint a realistic picture causes us to move too far away from the part of the older adult population who are physically and/or cognitively challenged. This symposium assists gerontologist to paint a realistic picture of late life while teaching our students how to understand and support the most challenged of the older adult population. The first presentation discusses positive aging “dirty words.” As gerontologists, our attempt to highlight positive aspects of the biopsychosocial aging process may do a disservice to our students. This presentation will present a review of language used in the current literature to describe frailty and “at risk” older adults, including a comparison to “positive aging” literature. This presentation will conclude with a discussion of innovative ways we can shape a realistic and constructive dialogue of frailty in older adulthood with our students. The second presentation discusses shifts in students’ attitudes towards elders through service learning. While a small percentage of older adults are frail, often service learning experiences involve interaction with this small subset of the older adult population. Two groups of students in the same aging related courses, those doing service learning activities with well elders and those doing service learning with frail elders, were given a pre/post questionnaire to assess changes in their attitudes toward older adults. Results indicate there are differences in the shifts in attitude depending on the type of elders student engaged with in their experience. The third presentation discusses teaching about frail elderly through the analysis of a novel which chronicles a frail elderly woman’s life. Discussions include her interactions with nursing staff, social workers, physicians, and her family. A discussion on how her prior life influenced her aging is also included. Student objectives, assessments, and worksheets designed for the project will also be shared during the presentation. The final presentation focuses on how to conduct research on frail elderly. A former chair of a University Institutional Review Board discusses how others’ views of frail elderly can influence IRB decisions and how to ensure success with your proposal.


Association for Gerontology in Higher Education Annual Meeting (AGHE)


Nashville, TN