Identity, civic engagement, and altruism: a phenomenological exploration of activity engagement in older adults

Marna Ghiglieri, Rose McAndrew, Carolyn M. Baum, Steven D. Taff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Older adults’ health and quality of life, proxies for aging well, are tied to activity engagement. Recent research indicates studying the perspective of older adults through their personal stories is key to understanding the phenomenon of occupational engagement as experienced day-to-day. Aim: To uncover the lived experience of older adults within their natural settings to better understand the phenomenon of activity engagement. This new knowledge informs programming options suited to older adults’ wants and needs. Materials/methods: Ten community-dwelling older adults (5 female, 5 male mean 79 years) were studied. Researchers performed phenomenological interpretive analysis (IPA) with multiple coders and member cheques to triangulate findings. Results: Daily activities revolved around three themes: 1) Perspectives of self-identity are viewed as consistent throughout the lifespan; 2) Civic engagement is beneficial for social support and self-efficacy; and 3) Philosophical outlook influences activity choices and outlooks centred on altruism are critical to continued activity engagement. Seven of the ten participants expressed an overall positive outlook on aging. Three participants described a negative outlook on aging, expressed more difficulty with activity engagement, but reported desire to help others. Conclusions and significance: These themes provide a basis for programming to increase activity engagement with older adults in the community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-238
Number of pages14
JournalScandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021


  • Occupational therapy
  • civic engagement
  • interpretive phenomenological analysis
  • older adults
  • productive aging
  • successful aging


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