Since the results of my research are still pending, I would like to focus on my progress so far and the impact this project has had on me.
As I discussed in my previous blog posts, my project analyzes whether the attitudes of nursing students’ toward older adults will change following an aging sensitivity intervention. Using SPSS (a software package used for statistical analysis) to analyze the data, we will be presenting the results using aggregate data. This means we will be using data combined from several measurements. We will be analyzing the data to see whether there was a change in knowledge and attitudes pre and post the intervention.
This project has impacted me on an educational as well as personal level. First of all, since a quantitative experiment is typical in nursing, this project is a wonderful preface to what I hope to accomplish independently during my career as a nurse. This introduction has whet my appetite and given me an inkling as to what is possible regarding ideas for hypotheses, methods for gathering data, and tools for data analysis.
On a personal level, the most valuable asset I have gained by participating in this project is an awe-inspiring mentor who is encouraging, supportive and truly interested and invested in my goals. The match between me and Dr. Sharon Wexler was one stroke of personal good fortune that has influenced my aspirations for my career as well as my own attitude toward gerontological nursing and older adults.
My heart beats a little faster as I sit down to write the third installation of my research blog posts. The whole process has been so rewarding thus far and to my perpetual astonishment, when I think it cannot get any better it does.
Firstly, Dr. Wexler and I are at the stage where we are analyzing the data that we gathered last semester. Right now we are making decisions about entering the data into SPSS, or Statistical Packages for the Social Sciences. This program is used by researchers to analyze data and present our findings in an appreciable fashion such as a graph. This will also provide the basis for the year-end presentation to which I am really looking forward. Before entering the data into SPSS we have to figure out the scoring of the scales we used in order to enter the results in the program. I am excited to get a sneak peek at the students’ answers on the surveys from the pre and post test and see whether the answers changed following the Aging Sensitivity Experience.
This research project and Dr. Wexler specifically presented another thrilling opportunity for me. Dr. Wexler will help me write and submit an abstract for the National Gerontological Nurses Association where Dr. Wexler was recently awarded the status of fellow for her leadership in gerontological nursing. This opens up the opportunity to present our research results with a student poster at the conference later this year.
We are entering the home stretch in this process. We administered the pre-test and the intervention. We gathered the data on the post-test. I am looking forward to sharing my results with you as the data becomes available hot off the press.
Now that I have had the opportunity to participate in and oversee several aging-sensitivity simulations in University 101 classes I actually have some insight on the potential impact of this project.
Before the students assume their gerontologic identities with the accompanying vision changes, hearing changes, muscle aches and dexterity deficiencies, they are asked their opinion of older adults. Students complain that older adults are annoying, slow or generally unlikable. As the simulation progresses, the students’ reactions are disbelief, surprise and irritation with their limitations. Students attempt to hyperextend their necks to try and see through the obstruction of the aging glasses. “This is so hard!” Is a common complaint as the students try to wrestle with their cell phones to dial a phone number or peel a tangerine. Luckily for the students their limitations are temporary while in reality the changes that accompany old age are not just a costume. They are permanent and progressive.
After the simulation when the students are asked to reverse their age-related changes, remove their glasses and earplugs, the popcorn from their shoes, they are asked how these changes made them feel. The replies vary from irritated, sad, and angry. Their voices are noticeably softer as they relate stories of their grandparents’ struggles with old age and their personal struggle to relate to the elderly adults in their lives.
This experience attempts to demonstrate how aging is a subjective experience. When students are asked what will make them old their responses vary by the number of students in the room. One student feels she will be old when she is no longer independent. Another student states he will be old when those around him consider him old. As the simulation exercise wraps up, the attitude in the room feels quietly reflective. I wonder, however, how long the emotional impact of the aging sensitivity will endure. Will the students recall the emotions they felt, the understanding that dawned on them or the thoughts that occurred to them during the simulation by the time their attitudes are reassessed later in the study? Will the generous, magnanimous attitude fostered by the experience extend to the geriatric population they encounter in their nursing clinical a couple of years down the road?
It will be interesting to see if and how the students’ attitudes have changed later on in the project with the post-test surveys.
The title of the research project I am working on is The Impact of an Aging Sensitivity Experience on Nursing Students. This project seeks to address the negative attitudes of nursing students toward the geriatric population and the students’ disinterest in working with this population. With the progressive aging of the U.S. population, students do not realize the majority of clients they will encounter in the hospital or home-care setting are over age sixty-five. Whether it is an older adult with chronic disease in the emergency room or an older adult present for the birth of a grandchild, nurses spend a lot of time caring for adults over sixty-five.
The method this project utilizes is a pretest-posttest design. All freshman nursing students enrolled in University 101 are asked to fill out a demographic questionnaire, in addition to an aging quiz to measure their attitudes on aging. Later, the students participate in an aging sensitivity exercise. The exercises include props that help the students feel what it is like to be old. For example, students don glasses that simulate age-related vision changes such as cataracts or glaucoma. They also put cotton in their ears to simulate age-related hearing loss and popcorn in their shoes to get a feel for arthritis. The students then experience daily activities of an older adult such as taking medications and making a phone call accompanied by the age-related changes to their senses. Following that, the students are encouraged to reflect on older adults in their lives and how the experience made them feel.
In a nursing class, instructors often ask students which population they would like to work with once they graduate. Many students want to work with children. Some want to work in labor and delivery. Other students want to work in the emergency room. And some want to work on a medical-surgical unit for clients under age sixty-five. Very few students, if any, want to work with older adults. Yet, the majority of clients in any of these settings are older adults, whether the older adult is the actual patient or a concerned parent or grandparent. This is the reason I am excited to see the information this project generates. Perhaps if students are exposed to an aging sensitivity experience in University 101, they will appreciate and learn from their clinical experiences that much more.
Personally, this project piques my interest simply as a nursing student anticipating the population I will most likely be working with once I graduate. Admittedly, I was one of the students who said I wanted to work in pediatrics. However, I feel I am beginning to develop a fresh outlook and a new appreciation for the older adult through my exposure to the issue while working on this project. Thus, whatever the final answer is to the question this project poses – whether students’ attitudes will change following an aging sensitivity experience – my own attitude has benefited already.