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Abstract

Introduction: As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, the number of older adults requiring healthcare and other aging related services will increase. As a result, healthcare workers will need to be prepared to work with a diverse older population.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine college students’ knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about older adults (≥ 65 years of age). Specifically, we compared knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs among nursing, respiratory therapy, nutrition, social work, and non-healthcare majors.

Method: A non-random sample of 119 college students enrolled in healthcare programs (i.e. Nursing, Nutrition, Respiratory Therapy, and Social Work) as well as non-healthcare related fields was recruited on the campus of a large metropolitan university by word-of-mouth and flyers. Students had a mean age of 25 (±6.3) and were mostly female (80%), Caucasian (47%), and seniors (56%). Student majors were nursing (24%), respiratory therapy (20%), nutrition (21%), social work (16%) and non-healthcare (19%). A cross-sectional survey was used to collect information about the type, frequency, and quality of interaction students have with older adults, their interest in learning more about older adults and working with this population, and to identify factors that may influence students’ positive and/or negative feelings towards older adults. The survey included items from Kogan’s Attitudes toward Older People Scale and Palmore’s Facts on Aging Quiz. Descriptive statistics, correlations, independent t-tests, and ANOVA were used to analyze the data.

Results: Student’s interactions with older adults were mostly with family members (70%) and through work (36%). The mean frequency of interaction was 2.0 (±.88) and quality of interaction was 4.2 (±.65). Fifty percent of students reported an interest in working with older adults in the future and 56% were interested in taking a course dedicated to the care of older adults. The mean knowledge score was 17.5 (±2.8) and the mean attitude score was 135.9 (±15.9). Knowledge scores for nursing students (M=19.1±2.1) were significantly higher compared to respiratory therapy (M=16.4±2.3) and non-healthcare students (M=16.3±2.8; F=5.52, p

Conclusion: The results of this study indicate that most students had limited interaction with older adults other than family members. In general, students reported positive interactions with older adults. Students’ knowledge and attitudes towards older adults were slightly above the midpoint and differed significantly between some majors. About half of students were interested in working with older adults in the future and/or taking a course dedicated to the care of older adults.

Recommendations: Areas of opportunity exist for increasing college students’ interest in working with older adults and improving their knowledge and attitudes. One strategy would be to integrate geriatric considerations into program curricula and create an interdisciplinary course designed to address the gaps in students’ knowledge about older adults for healthcare and non-healthcare students. More research is needed about how to provide students with meaningful interaction with older adults and not just more frequent interaction. To increase students’ interest in working with older adults, discomforts associated with working with older adults and improving students’ knowledge about older adults should be explored.

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