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  • Engagement and Quality of Life in Under–represented Older Adults: A Community–Based Participatory Research Project
  • Ellen R. Brown, Yvonne Lu, Joyce Beaven, Hugh C. Hendrie, Karen Hanson, Carly A. Carvell, and Mary G. Austrom

Community–based Participatory Research (CBPR) is defined as a collaborative approach to research that involves all partners equally in the research process and recognizes the unique strengths that each partner brings. CBPR begins with a research topic of importance to the community and has the aim of combining knowledge with action and achieving some kind of change in the community partner’s program and certainly improves knowledge for the academic partner. In addition, commonly acknowledged benefits of CBPR to the academic and researchers include an increased investment in and commitment to the research process by the study participants and facilitated participant recruitment and retention. Benefits for the community partner include assuming the role of “partner” rather than “subject”, and having a voice in both setting the study objectives and the design of the project, thus ensuring respect for the culture and goals of the community. Both partners gain from the increased likelihood that the project will be successfully completed. The CBPR model was used to guide our collaborative research project, entitled “Engagement and Quality of Life in Underrepresented Older Adults” at Indiana University with our community partner, Catholic Charities Indianapolis and their Senior Companions Program (SCP). The Corporation for National and Community Service is the Federal agency that administers SCP nationally and is the major funding source for this program. As the elderly population increases so does interest in ensuring their health and function. The SCP, a volunteer based program of seniors providing companionship to vulnerable community dwelling elders is an excellent example of civic engagement. CBPR is especially relevant in research with underrepresented groups (URG) because the community partner is typically integrated well within the URG. The SCP recruits, trains, supports and matches volunteers aged 55 and older with frail adults in need of support and companionship. SC provide support and touch the lives of adults needing extra assistance to live independently in their homes. SC serve frail older adults, adults with disabilities, those with terminal illnesses and their presence offers respite to family caregivers at no cost to the clients or caregivers.

Our CPBR project was designed to determine elements of wellbeing, physical health and quality of life in the minority elderly participating in the SCP. Understanding the Senior Companion (SC) role and the impact of the SC on the client and, conversely, the client’s impact on the SC has provided valuable information and insight on the effect of meaningful engagement on minority elderly. 60 SC participated in one of 9 focus groups designed to learn more about how the SCP impacts their quality of life as well as that of their clients. SC shared rich stories and examples of how the SCP keeps them motivated, distracts from their own problems as they help clients in need. While our project was designed to understand the elements of participating in the SCP that contribute to and improve quality of life for both the Senior Companions and their clients, the nature of the relationship among the members of the research team, the academic and community partners, is crucial to the success of our work.

Fundamentally, CBPR succeeds when community–academic partners share equal responsibility for the project. While we certainly agree that these elements of CBPR described above are important, we found that the following qualities in our team and working closely together to meet [End Page E7] the requirements to complete the project have been critical to the success of our research:

Positive Partnership Experience

Mutually respectful relationship among the partners and long–standing collaboration existed prior to the initiation of the CBPR. The community–academic partner co–leads undertook the CBPR with a strong foundation of mutual respect and trust built upon a respectful, professional relationship spanning two decades. An essential element of the collaboration was that both partners wanted to learn more about the SCP and what makes it work so well. The community partner knew that rather than collecting data for purely research purposes, they would gain useful information about...


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