Social Participation in the Daily Lives of Frail Older Adults: Types of Participation and Influencing Factors

Daan Duppen*, Deborah Lambotte, Sarah Dury, An-Sofie Smetcoren, Honghui Pan, Liesbeth De Donder, D-SCOPE Consortium, Anne van der Vorst, G.A.R. Zijlstra, G.I.J.M. Kempen, Jos Schols

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives: The advantages of social participation for older adults are well established and have been adopted in aging policy frameworks. However, little is known about the social participation of frail older adults. This research examined the types of social interaction of very frail older adults and the factors influencing this participation.

Method: Interviews with 38 very frail older adults were analyzed using Levasseur and colleagues' (Levasseur, Richard, Gauvin, & Raymond (2010). Inventory and analysis of definitions of social participation found in the aging literature: Proposed taxonomy of social activities. Social Science and Medicine (1982), 71, 2141-2149) taxonomy activity levels of involvement with others. A qualitative hybrid approach with inductive and deductive thematic analyses was used.

Results: Participants often disengaged from activities with high involvement with others, preferring activities with less involvement. Low-key participation emerged as an important type of social participation enabling frail older adults to remain engaged in society. Key factors that influenced social participation were functional decline, and the physical (e.g., traffic, the disappearance of local stores) and social environment (e.g., social networks and the presence of meeting places such as community centers).

Discussion: Findings advance our knowledge and recognition of the different ways frail older adults participate in society. Despite their frailty, older adults wish to stay socially active. Focusing on the social environment in the frameworks and policies of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities will benefit these individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2062-2071
Number of pages10
JournalJournals of Gerontology Series B-Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Age-friendly
  • Low-key participation
  • Qualitative research
  • Social environment

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