The role of self-directed learning in older adults' health care
Valente, Janet Sharon
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The purpose of this study was to understand the role of self-directed learning in older adults’ health care. This research employed a descriptive qualitative design that used in-depth and semi-structured interviews for data collection. The sample of 15 purposefully selected older adults, ages 65-89, reflected diversity in race, gender, education, professions and health conditions. All participants lived independently in their own homes or apartments. Six research questions guided this study: (1) What motivates older adults to take control of their learning regarding health care? (2) What health care behaviors are controlled by self-directed learners? (3) What contextual factors are controlled by self-directed learners? (4) What is the process of self-directed learning of one’s health care? (5) How does self-directed learning affect one’s health care? (6) What barriers do learners experience in the self-direction of their health care? Data analysis was guided by the constant comparative method revealing the following findings: The factors that motivate older adults are age related issues, other people and the potential benefits associated with controlling health. Self-directed learners control their health by establishing appropriate physical activity and exercise levels, maintaining a positive psychological health, managing specific health conditions, and controlling their living environments. There is a specific process of self-directed learning beginning with a health event, receiving a diagnosis, acquiring and assessing information, choosing treatment options, monitoring treatment results, and managing adjustments in life style and treatment. Self-directed learners perceive that learning reduces threats to their health, raises body awareness, and increases collaborative management of their health care. Three conclusions were drawn related to the role of self-directed learning and health: (1) Older adults are motivated to take control of certain aspects of their health care; (2) The self-directed learning process specific to health care involves negotiation and socialization; and (3) Self-directed learning is perceived as positively affecting health care. Practical implications from this study suggest that adult educators develop collaborative working arrangements with health professionals to design interventions and/or programs that promote motivation and empowerment for older adults. Older adults need to be made aware of the potential benefits to their health by using self-directed learning.