Abstract: Puerto Rican Older Adults' Resilience and Wisdom: Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Puerto Rican Older Adults' Resilience and Wisdom: Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Valley of the Sun C, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Humberto Fabelo, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, VA
Todd Becker, LMSW, PhD Student, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Matthew Morgan, MSW, PhD Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Julia Vazquez, BA, Graduate Student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose: COVID-19 disrupted the livelihoods of individuals—especially older adults—worldwide. Although much research considers the strains caused by COVID-19, less has addressed personal growth promulgated by COVID-19, contributing to an uneven representation of a pressing social and medical phenomenon. Understanding the lessons learned by older adults during the pandemic can help us know how this growth supports individual and community resilience. The ecological model of resilience in late life posits that resilience, shaped by context and culture, is a way to understand how older adults adapt to adversity over time. Using this model, we explored wisdom as an element that supports individual and community resilience in Puerto Rican older adults. The purpose of this study was to tap into the wisdom of older adults in Puerto Rico by describing their own perceptions of lessons learned throughout a period of continued distress and to identify the emerging categories these lessons may represent.

Methods: This cross-sectional study recruited a nonprobability sample of 189 older adults (≥60 years) in Puerto Rico between January and December 2021 (telephone: 28.0%, in-person: 72.0%). Ages ranged from 60 to 99 years (M = 71.6 years, SD = 8.4 years). Participants were mostly female (57.1%) and not currently married or cohabitating (78.3%). Taken from the longer questionnaire, the primary source of this analysis was an open-ended single item asking about lessons learned during the pandemic that they would like to share with others. Responses were transcribed verbatim and read back to participants to increase validity. We conducted content analysis targeting primarily manifest content. We individually coded and categorized a random subset of 40 responses (intercoder agreement = 78.0%). Differences (mostly category names) were reconciled via discussion. We applied these reconciled materials to the remaining responses.

Results: Content analysis results generated a total of seven categories of lessons learned. The most prevalent category was social responsibility (46.3%), which encapsulated concepts including following public health guidelines (rules), taking care of oneself, and educating others. Other categories included acknowledging loneliness (12.2%), lending a helping hand (9.8%), the importance of family (9.8%), seizing the day (9.8%), and faith/spirituality (7.3%). The final category reflected perceptions of not having learned anything new (9.8%).

Conclusions and Implications: Study results generated an array of lessons learned by older adults in Puerto Rico throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These categories represent various types of wisdom that support individual and community resilience and are congruent with Puerto Rican sociocultural context prioritizing family, faith, and collective responsibility. Such wisdom is needed to drive community responses toward ongoing challenges brought forth by the pandemic. Knowing what people have learned about how they coped and moved forward with the stress of COVID-19, may allow us to apply this understanding when considering ways to help others. With this information, we may be able to better inform interventions that take into account context, culture, and individual experiences and leverage the wisdom of older adults to strengthen individual and community resilience.