Masters Thesis

The experience of older adults with physical disabilities in a physical activity university service-learning program

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore the experiences of older adults with physical disabilities in a physical activity university service-learning program. Subjects participated in the Beyond Exercise: Wellness Enhancement for Life (BE:WEL) two times per week for 1, 2-4 or more than 5 years and shared their experiences through semi-structured interviews. The model of successful aging (Rowe & Kahn, 1997) was the research framework that guided the methodology used for this study. Purposeful sampling of participants which included 55 years or older, BE:WEL participant, and physical disability, observations taken by primary researcher, collection of artifacts such as workout logs, volunteer notes, and previous participation notes and semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis was also used for the data in order to triangulate participant experience and provide a richer description of participant experiences. Results of the study were three themes: positive mental health, physical competence/confidence, and program vibe. Participants experienced improvements psychologically and physically from service-learning program. The population size perceives to have successful aging even though physical disabilities were not avoided. The service-learning program provided a social, comfortable, and learning environment for physical activity among participants. Physical activity service-learning programs can be beneficial to older adults with disabilities in a community program setting. Population size was small, so may not be a reflection on the entirety of older adults with physical disabilities. Future studies could include higher population sample, quantitative data on exercises, and a year-long analysis.

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