Older Adult Peer Support Specialists’ Age-Related Contributions to Self-Management Through Text Message Exchanges: A Qualitative Study (Preprint)

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BACKGROUND Older adults with mental health conditions experience co-morbid physical health conditions, premature nursing home admissions, and an earlier mortality compared to the general population of older adults. Older adult peer support specialists are increasingly using technology to deliver peer support services related to addressing both mental health and physical health needs of older adults. OBJECTIVE This qualitative study examined older adult peer support specialists’ age-related contributions to peer-supported integrated medical and psychiatric self-management through text message exchanges METHODS Older adult peer specialists exchanged text messages with service users as part of a 12-week peer-supported smartphone intervention. Text message exchanges between older adult peer specialists (N=3) and people with serious mental illness were examined (N=8) with a mean age of 68.8 years (SD=4.9). A total of 356 text messages were sent between the older adult peer specialist and people with serious mental illness. Older adult peer specialists sent text messages to older participants' smartphones between from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and weekends RESULTS Five themes emerged including (1) using technology to simultaneously manage mental health and physical health issues; (2) realizing new capabilities in late life; (3) sharing their roles as parents and grandparents; (4) wisdom; and (5) sharing lived experience of normal age-related changes (emerging). CONCLUSIONS The collaborative non-directive approach by the older adult peer specialists offered key experiential contributions that are important to successfully aging with a mental health condition. Promising evidence suggests older adult peer support specialists may be helpful in addressing age-related mental health and physical health needs of older adults in the community.

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