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Soc Sci Med. 2010 Dec;71(12):2141-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.09.041. Epub 2010 Oct 19.

Inventory and analysis of definitions of social participation found in the aging literature: proposed taxonomy of social activities.

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University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.


Social participation is a key determinant of successful and healthy aging and therefore an important emerging intervention goal for health professionals. Despite the interest shown in the concept of social participation over the last decade, there is no agreement on its definition and underlying dimensions. This paper provides an inventory and content analysis of definitions of social participation in older adults. Based on these results, a taxonomy of social activities is proposed. Four databases (Medline, CINAHL, AgeLine and PsycInfo) were searched with relevant keywords (Aging OR Ageing OR Elderly OR Older OR Seniors AND Community involvement/participation OR Social engagement/involvement/participation) resulting in the identification of 43 definitions. Using content analysis, definitions were deconstructed as a function of who, how, what, where, with whom, when, and why dimensions. Then, using activity analysis, we explored the typical contexts, demands and potential meanings of activities (main dimension). Content analysis showed that social participation definitions (n = 43) mostly focused on the person's involvement in activities providing interactions with others in society or the community. Depending on the main goal of these social activities, six proximal to distal levels of involvement of the individual with others were identified: 1) doing an activity in preparation for connecting with others, 2) being with others, 3) interacting with others without doing a specific activity with them, 4) doing an activity with others, 5) helping others, and 6) contributing to society. These levels are discussed in a continuum that can help distinguish social participation (levels 3 through 6) from parallel but different concepts such as participation (levels 1 through 6) and social engagement (levels 5 and 6). This taxonomy might be useful in pinpointing the focus of future investigations and clarifying dimensions specific to social participation.

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