Given population aging, the meaningful involvement of older adults in influencing policy and programs through participatory action research (PAR) is increasingly vital. PAR holds promise for equitable participation, co-learning, community mobilization, and personal and social transformation, however, little scholarly attention has been given to critically evaluating how PAR has been taken up with older adults. The objective of this review was to critically evaluate the use of PAR with older adults.
A critical interpretive synthesis (CIS) of 40 PAR studies with older adults was conducted. Critical engagement with the articles identified dominant tendencies, limits of these tendencies, and proposed ways forward.
Within the majority of articles reviewed, older adults were not prominent partners in PAR given their often limited involvement in designing the research questions, learning research skills and knowledge, and implementing findings for change. Furthermore, power differentials between researchers and older adults were evident, as older adults were often positioned as participants rather than partners. Finally, this article demonstrates various boundaries on the foci of studies related to inclusivity and sustainability.
This study revealed that the promises PAR holds are often not fully realized in projects with older adults, given that they are rarely positioned as equitable partners, co-learners, or agents for change. The findings have the potential to stimulate further uptake of PAR research with an older adult population, highlighting areas for change in systems and research practices.