“Something to look forward to” - Experiences of Older Adults Taking Part in a Peer Support Group

  • Miranda Quinney Smyth

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The political response to Wales’ ageing population has been to strive to make Wales the best place in the world to grow older (Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, 2019). Third sector interventions to improve the wellbeing of older adults have been recognised by the Welsh Government as “pivotal” (Welsh Assembly Government, 2008). Many studies have been carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of such interventions, but there is little in-depth understanding of people’s experiences of participation.

    The aim of this study was to describe the experience of taking part in a peer support group for older adults from the perspective of its participants. Using descriptive phenomenology, the study avoided evaluation and instead gave voice to the older adults who participated in a peer support group taking place in a retirement housing scheme in South Wales. The study had a longitudinal design with three interview phases over a 15-month period. The first phase of interviews took place whilst the group was led by professional facilitators. The second phase took place six months later when the group was led by a volunteer peer leader. The final interviews were conducted six months thereafter during the first lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Six members of the group volunteered to participate in this study of whom three became peer leaders. Sixteen one-to-one interviews of between 45 and 60 minutes were conducted over 15 months. The data gathered was analysed to identify themes using Giorgi’s method for descriptive phenomenological analysis (Giorgi, 1997). The overarching theme identified was of experiences of wellbeing. The findings suggest that wellbeing includes feelings of positive emotion such as enjoyment, amusement, feelings of being in control, being valued and pride. Wellbeing included feelings of belonging and encompassed the development of relationships with other group members and external facilitators. Participants described attending the group as providing opportunities to learn from one another,share experiences of bereavement and provide empathetic support. Findings indicated that participation in the group generated feelings of wellbeing from participants’ perceptions that it was a meaningful experience with purpose. It was described as “something to look forward to” and an opportunity to “bring the outside in.”

    The contribution to new knowledge made by this study arises from findings about the experience of the older adult peer leaders. These experiences have not been explored in other studies. The peer leaders’ experiences of wellbeing were broader than those of the group members. They included feelings of engagement and achievement arising from their participation in meaningful activities. These findings can be used to inform policies which seek to improve the wellbeing of older adults. This is a strategic objective of the Welsh Government’s Ageing Well policy (Welsh Government, 2020). Welsh Government policy also seeks to realign the negative perceptions held of older adults. Including older adults in opportunities for social participation such as leading peer support groups in a voluntary capacity contributes to this realignment and accords with Ageing Well policy.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnne Fothergill (Supervisor), Juping Yu (Supervisor) & Rachel Taylor (Supervisor)

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