The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2000 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

RESPIRATORY THERAPY STUDENTS' ATTITUDES TOWARD THE ELDERLY AND PREFERENCES FOR WORKING WITH ELDERLY PATIENTS

Susan L. Perkins, MAEd, MA, RRT, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama

Background: Growing numbers of elderly persons, living to advanced ages, are predicted to increase the need for chronic health care services. In general, health care professionals are significantly more negative in their attitudes toward elderly patients than toward young ones and regard work with the elderly as undesirable. Prior investigations have led to conflicting and somewhat ambiguous findings on factors that influence health care providers' work preferences in relation to the elderly. This study was designed to assess the attitudes toward the elderly of respiratory therapy students (RTS) and to investigate the relationship between these attitudes and their preferences for working with elderly patients. Method: A set of 27 semantic differential scales (ASD), taken from an instrument developed by Rosencranz and McNevin (1969), was utilized for the measurement of attitudes. These scales were chosen because of their known factorial content. Work preferences were evaluated by items adapted from the Wilensky-Barmack Work Preference Questionnaire (1966). The items from this instrument asked for students' preferences in the areas of 1) age of patient population, 2) diagnostic category, and 3) work settings. It was hypothesized that the attitudes of RTS toward the elderly would be more negative or neutral than positive, and RTS with more positive attitudes would prefer working with elderly patients.

Results: The hypothesis predicting negative or neutral attitudes was not supported. Student attitudes as measured by the average total score on the ASD were significantly above the theoretically neutral score of 108, with mean (SD) 127.74 (19.49). The second hypothesis was likewise not supported. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed that there was no relationship between total score on the ASD and student preferences for working with elderly patients. Conclusion: The results of this study indicate that positive attitudes toward the elderly of RTS might not assure adequate numbers of respiratory therapists working with elderly patients or in geriatric settings. In order to meet the health care needs of the expanding elderly population, ways must be found to encourage RTS to work with this age group.

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