Date of Award


Document Type

Scholarly Project

Degree Name

Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT)


Occupational Therapy

First Advisor

Carla Wilhite


Aged; Aged, 80 and over; Occupational Therapy -- methods; Social Isolation


Occupational therapists believe social engagement is vital to the health and well-being of the older adult. Social isolation has been linked to loss of physical, cognitive and emotional health. Elders at risk of social isolation are not specifically addressed by community health programs due to lack of knowledge and resources. Social isolation and loss of meaningful activity are significant precursors to rapid decline in the health and well-being of elderly people living in their communities.

Literature indicates that use of personal learning style preferences to problem solve improves success in occupation. Older adults often lack awareness of their personal learning styles and how to use them as tools to experience success in new learning, relearning of old skills and adapting to changing contexts in community living. Failure to understand often leads to ineffective approaches to new occupations or avoidance of activities that led to frustration or perceived loss of ability in the past. This leads to loss of self-efficacy, isolation and apathy. The older adult population is in need of education in recognizing their individual learning styles and how to best use this information as a tool to optimize their function in meaningful community occupations. They will benefit from learning and practicing learning strategies specific to the needs of the older adult to improve effective community engagement.

The population of interest for this scholarly project are elders who are living in community but are not actively engaged or rarely engaged in occupations outside their homes, from the "very elderly (70+) to the oldest-old (80+)" (Maderer & Skiba, 2006, p. 126) who are at increased risk of reduced health status and quality of life due to isolation and inactivity. These are elderly men and women who are regarded as most vulnerable to a future need for home health care or eventual institutionalization.

A comprehensive literature review was conducted to gather information regarding social isolation and the benefits of participation in occupations that have meaning to the individual. The findings indicate that community health interventions frequently take place in group settings with a select population of elders dwelling in senior housing. Direct therapy services to provide individualized, occupation-based interventions can provide the impetus for future gro~p participation for this at risk population. A need exists for a manual to present the role of the occupational therapist in addressing the social participation needs of the elder hoping to remain in place.

The goal of this project is to provide a manual designed to enhance the knowledge and confidence of occupational therapists working with this challenging population. It provides the practitioner with education in and application of adult learning styles and experiential learning theories and includes a quick reference pamphlet for learning style identification in the field. It contains learning strategies for older adults as important aspects of teaching the elderly an effective means of learning, reflecting and applying self-directed goals toward meaningful social occupations.