An exploration of the sense of community of older persons in an economically deprived and culturally diverse residential care facility
Van der Walt, Elmarie Muriel
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The sharp increase in the number of older persons (60 years and older) is a distinctive demographic feature of the 20th century. Ageing populations and the unique challenges they pose have obliged countries worldwide to reflect on the problems relating to older persons. In 2002 the United Nations convened the Second World Assembly on Ageing at which the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) was drafted and adopted. This plan sought to meet the challenges associated with ageing populations. In South Africa the elderly population is also increasing dramatically. The fact that older persons are starting to constitute a proportionally larger segment of the total population while they are, at the same time, amongst the poorest people in the country and dependent on others for support and care holds serious implications for South Africa. In post–apartheid South Africa (after 1994) residential care facilities were opened to all South Africans regardless of race or colour. Apart from dealing with diversity, residential care facilities have to manage the long–term care needs of older persons and their lack of the financial or human resources to sustain themselves. Against this background the South African government promulgated legislation in line with the recommendations of the MIPAA. The legislation seeks to lighten the burden placed on residential care facilities while, at the same time, emphasising the importance of enhancing the well–being of older persons. Despite the legislation and the policy frameworks, the circumstances in most residential care facilities in South Africa are challenging and call for action and psychosocial interventions. Given that racial segregation still exists in residential care facilities and the importance of the relational well–being of older persons, it was decided to explore the sense of community of older persons in South Africa who reside in a diverse and economically challenged residential care facility. A purposive sample was drawn of the male and female, and black and white older persons living in the facility. The study used the Mmogo–methodTM, interviews, focus groups, observations and reflective notes to collect qualitative data from the research participants. A possible limitation of the study is that some participants – being older persons – might experience some degree of being cognitively challenged or might struggle to express themselves. To counter this limitation and to ensure the trustworthiness of the findings, a variety of data collection methods were used in order to be able to cross–check the information gathered. Apart from this, specific data collection methods were used that make provision for cognitively challenged older persons. As the study involved older persons as a vulnerable group, special attention was paid to ethical considerations. Ethical approval was granted by the Ethics Committee of the North–West University, Potchefstroom Campus, as part of a larger project, being: “An exploration of enabling contexts (05K14).” The main finding of the study is the low sense of community that the older persons in this particular residential care facility experience. This is supplemented by two themes that emerged throughout the study, being the lack of social interaction between the residents and the residents' need to have a sense of purpose. The occurrence of these two themes is supported by findings in community psychology and sense of community theories, and some of the findings of the study are consistent with findings reported in the literature. The study concludes with recommendations on how the residents' sense of community could be enhanced.
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