Perceptions about Aging and Ageism from 14 Cross-sectional Cohorts of Undergraduate Dental Students.

M Brondani,L Donnelly,N Christidis, R Grazziotin-Soares,D Ardenghi, A B Siqueira

JDR clinical and translational research(2023)

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BACKGROUND:Although positive and negative views of aging and older adults exist, how undergraduate dental students imagine their lives to be as they grow older remains to be fully explored. This study aimed at determining the self-perceived views of being 65, 75, or 85 y of age, as expressed by undergraduate dental students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada. METHODS:A 14-y cross-sectional study design was utilized involving third-year undergraduate dental students at UBC's Faculty of Dentistry. Brief individual essays (150 words) encompassing students' self-perceived views were gathered as part of a dental geriatric course from 2009 to 2022; however, essays were not mandatory. Saldaña's inductive coding and thematic analysis of textual data were used. Themes and categories of information were identified and matched with their excerpts while aiming for data saturation. RESULTS:Over the 14-y period, 657 students were enrolled in UBC's undergraduate dental geriatric course, and 561 essays were collected. Inductive coding and thematic analysis identified 5 main themes and 11 categories. While themes included "oral health, general health, and the mind" and "me, myself, and familial relationships," the categories focused on "(un)able bodies" and "general health." Positive views about the aging process were shared, while less optimistic ideas-and even ageism-were apparent when students saw themselves as not employable or living in isolation. Positive and negative views were not bound by the students' academic year but might have been influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. CONCLUSION:Although the number of older adults already surpasses the number of children in many countries, ageism appears to have permeated through students' views of 3 older ages. More positive yet realistic views of growing older were also shared. Follow-up studies are needed to explore the impact of dental education on decreasing ageism. KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER STATEMENT:As the proportion of older adults in the global population steadily grows, it is important to educate heath care providers about normal and pathologic aging to avoid ageism-stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination against older adults. This cross-sectional study involved 14 cohorts of undergraduate dental students exploring their self-perceived views of growing older. Although positive and negative views of aging were shared, dental education must focus on decreasing ageism.
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