Who said that elderly only stay at home?


Mariana Tereza Monferdini RuocoI; Ana Cristina Passarella BrêtasII; Elisabeth Niglio de FigueiredoIII

INurse. Resident nurse of Adult and Elderly Healthcare Program, University of São Paulo, University Hospital of the University of São Paulo. Brazil. E-mail:
IINurse. Sociologist. Associate professor of the Federal University of São Paulo, Collective Heath Department. São Paulo, Brazil. E-mail:
IIINurse. Pharmacist. Adjunct professor of the Federal University of São Paulo, Collective Heath Department. São Paulo, Brazil. E-mail:



ABSTRACT: Brazil ages and its population bring with them not only special demands of public services and investment, but changes in ways of looking at life, relationships between people and culture. The objective of this study is to understand the meaning of social participation for seniors who attend a community center. This is a qualitative study, developed into a community center for the elderly, in 2012,  in the city of São Paulo. Nine elderly women have being interviewed. The narratives were performed on the themes: the meaning of being old, living in the neighborhood, participation in the community center; difficulties of the participation, and social participation. Most of the women do not feel old and all participate in several activities. The current elderly is winning his place in society in a different way, ensuring their wishes and overcoming the impaired functional capacity in many different ways.

 Keywords: Aging; aged; social participation; nursing.



Brazil ages and its population bring with them not only special demands of public services and investment, but changes in ways of looking at life, relationships between people and culture. The increasing rate of elderly is already visible in different social environments and big portion of contemporary aged people are no longer confined to their homes or long-stay institutions, featuring an important hole in the society1.

Programs related to social participation for seniors proliferates in the country, such as community groups that encourage the pursuit of self-expression and identity valorization, enabling to live in groups and still respecting the time, manner and individuality of each elderly2.

The choice of the theme “Social Participation of Seniors” resulted from the main researcher of this study experiences from living and studying in a neighborhood where many university students circulate, and by observing that, on the streets that surrounds the University students are merged with many elderly people - fact that intrigues her.

Thus, we decided to investigate, through a scientific research, how is the social participation of this population in that region. The aim of the study was to understand the meaning of social participation for seniors who attend a community center.



The aging world population is growing, the number of elderly in the world is about 600 million and this total will double by 2025 reaching two billion in 20503,4.

In 1988, specific citizenship rights for the elderly were incorporated into the Brazilian Constitution. The family, society and the State have the duty of assist the elderly, ensuring their participation in the community, securing their dignity and welfare and ensuring their right to life5. In addition, the Elderly Statute is the social recognition of the rights of this group, stressing the need to ensure the participation of this population in family and community life5.

Social participation, fundamental to the elderly autonomy, is one of the encouraged requirements in the Global Guide of Age-friendly Cities describing it as: opportunities and affordable activities; diversity of events and activities for different interests; suitable places and environments; dissemination of activities and events that actually reach the elderly, stimulating participation and combating isolation with individual invitations, if necessary, integrating different generations, cultures and communities6.



It is a social case study, where the researcher learns the addressed event, from the intense exploration of one or more cases within the context of his life7. All ethical procedures inherent to such studies performed are approved by the Ethics Committee of the Federal University of São Paulo (CEP 1868/11).

It was performed in a community center for the elderly in São Paulo, which has approximately 130 weekly cohabitants. Took part in this research nine elderly, here called as Agate, Amethyst, Crystal, Diamond, Emerald, Jade, Pearl, Ruby and Sapphire; there was no exclusion criteria from the researcher, however, at the time of the interviews, only women were at the Community Center. They agreed to participate after explanation of the purpose, method, research publishing ways and anonymity, signing a Term of Free Consent.

Data were collected through the interview technique, recorded and transcribed by the researcher, ensuring the confidentiality agreed with the narrators. For the execution, an instrument with guiding questions was used, which addressed the participant’s identification; meanings of social participation and involvement in the community center; meaning of being elderly and living in the Community Center area. The interviews allowed free dialogue between the researcher and the interviewees.

Data were analyzed taking into account the need to outline possible theoretical implications of their findings, considering the classes of events that could be representative to the research objective7. From the statements analysis, the following themes emerged: meaning of being elderly; living in the neighborhood; participation in the community center; difficulties to participate; and social participation.



Agate and Amethyst at the interview were aged 65. The first insisted on participating in the survey, despite being in a hurry, and the second, with time for a conversation talked about her career and her daughter who works with healthcare, also mentioning with pride her homeland:

[...] I’m not from São Paulo, I’m from Belém. (Amethyst)

Crystal, aged 64, participates in the Community Center for less than one year and shows a keen interest on teaching and learning. Diamond was 69 years old but appeared to be much younger, and she acknowledges that.

[...] I do not feel old, I really care about my appearance, people can’t tell my age (Diamond)

Emerald, 75 years old, talked about her grandson, said he didn’t really like to chat with her. Ms. Jade who was 76 years old was very expressive and participatory. Pearl, 77, was agitated, anxious and mentioned several times about the violence of society. Ruby, 79, showed nuisance in regards to the elderly who are confined at their home. Finally, Sapphire, 87 years old, was very calm throughout the conversation, spoke several times about her family.

Being elderly

Old age is a biological, psychological and social phenomenon, therefore, is not static, being result and the extension of the aging process, which itself is irreversível8.

Being elderly is a sequence of life. We have to accept it and live in best way possible. (Ruby)
[...] Result of everything we lived. (Emerald)

Most interviewed women do not feel old. Studies have highlighted that to age permeates changes, therefore, learn to deal with gains and losses, assimilate and don’t deny this process, adapting and seeking new acquisitions, makes healthful being elderly9-13.

Aging is a natural process, we age because we live, often without even realizing it. The human being lives, in general, with the attention focused on the future or in the past. Old age makes us think that future may not exist, and that a frequent attachment to the past, can compromise the present life. We believe that aging is a process in which old age is the last stage, therefore, the perception of being-in-world, makes us reflect that the human need to incorporate in their habits, aging every day9.

Being elderly is a contingency of life, sometimes we do not realize that, because our minds do not follow the age. I know I'm 65, but my mind is not 65 (Amethyst)

Feel old, for many of them means to feel incapable. Is by the pain in the body that aging is perceived, making us believe that functional losses are directly related to the perception of aging. The decline in functional capacity limits the performance of daily activities10-14.

I feel very well and I do almost all activities that I did in my whole life. (Crystal)

I don’t feel old, I feel young, everyone has pain, age is relentless. I feel like a lady, not an elderly. (Diamond)

On the other hand, Sapphire recognizes her limits, clearly realizes that at the stage of life she is in she needs to choose other activities, suit her day-to-day to her current conditions and emphasizes being happy. Over the years we win some skills and lose others, and the wisdom is to use the skills acquired to overcome those that were lost.

What I do now is something a little lighter due to my age. I think I overtake a little, for my age. And then, what I do here (in the Community Center), I get happy, everything is fine. (Sapphire)

In every meaning of being old, for these women, we learned the wisdom in which they deal with the aging process. They understand that aging is inevitable and make it a pleasurable experience. We think that a significant portion of our society is not ready to live the old age, since do not get prepared for aging throughout life.

The Neighborhood

The root, essential to the plant, besides fixing it, absorbs from soil the nutrients necessary for survival. With humans is no different, the rooting idea gives meaning to existence. Thus, life in the neighborhood is imbued with meanings and feelings, as can be noticed in the narrative below.

I would not move to any neighborhood, any neighborhood! I'm used to here. (Ruby)

Ah! Live here, in this neighborhood; look, I pretty much lived [here] all my life. (Crystal)

This neighborhood is wonderful. (Diamond)

They praise the neighborhood saying it has everything, but what is everything? May be the opposite of nothing, or, for each age group it has a meaning. They refer to the neighborhood as a place with all the necessary resources to live.

The place where I live is very, very well located. We have everything we need in this neighborhood. (Agate)
Has vehicles, has everything! (Ruby)

I like here, especially here in this place where we have everything: supermarket, pharmacy, dentist. (Pearl)
[...] living here for me is good, the neighborhood is good, has everything. (Crystal)

The social support due to the constant relationship with friends protects from functional losses, showing the importance of social and emotional relationships, during aging, especially, the friendship9-11. The development of an old age with quality permeates then society in which the individual is inserted, in addition to the lifestyle that he or she adopts.

I am friend of everyone, bakery, supermarket, pharmacy and also this Center which is really good [...]. (Agate)
My daughter retired, she wanted a calmer place, and we seek a place, and as we have friends here [...] to me was great to live here. (Sapphire)

This neighborhood for me is like my homeland, it’s something familiar... (Amethyst)

Considering the uniqueness of each human being, from the personal experiences, the Lady Amethyst says she find the neighborhood quiet and calm, as Mrs. Pearl relates to like the neighborhood, despite thinking it is unsafe.

It is still a quiet and very calm neighborhood. (Amethyst)

[...] although it has a lot of robbery, also, with the police station near here, what happens more is car theft. (Pearl)


The Community Center

The participation in the community center is rewarding and pleasurable for all elderly. These centers settled with goals, activities and differentiated proposals for this population, with entertainment, culture and fitness places, provide empowerment and citizenship ways in the everyday life of these people12.

It is important to me, I love here. It’s awesome, I am here since opened. (Pearl)
I participate in several activities here. (Emerald)

They refer to participate in different activities having decision-making power in regards to their likes and dislikes, and assign different meanings to the activities and being at the community center.

It is for mental hygiene. [...]. Yoga is a relaxation. (Ruby)
Because all I had to do here, jewelry, crafts, cooking, dance ... I participate in all. (Sapphire)

To participate in the community center strengthens the aging management process, valuing and respecting the knowledge accumulated throughout life. Proposals of action policies, directed to the elderly, favoring the emergence of significant social places, enable the opening of environments for new experiences collectively experienced, positively revolutionizing the aging image10.

Here, it’s a quieter thing, but it is a good thing, because we have a small group, about six. Sometimes we come here, there is no workshop or anything to do, we come to talk, because we built ​​a relationship. (Amethyst)
You start to relate to people at your age, who have the same interests, same tastes, can make a good exchange. It's a very pleasurable activity. (Crystal)

Every age has its beauty, its challenges and fears; the obstacles that we face in all stages of life are easier to overcome when shared with people who have already experienced the same situation. The exchange of information and experience strengthens and encourages; when people come together, they help each other. Furthermore, in groups people are able to do things that alone they probably would never do10-14.

Participation Difficulties

The functional capacity decline provides to the elderly limitations and, procedurally, the loss in the ability to perform, by themselves, their daily activities13. Regarding the issue of accessibility, turning a big city such as São Paulo into a completely adequate is a huge economic, technical and cultural challenge.

Every day she brings me here and comes to pick me up, because she is afraid, because the sidewalks here are awful, in every street. We are afraid of falling, as many here have already fallen, already injured their leg. (Sapphire)

It is essential that the family reorganizes, giving effective support to their elderly demands14. On the other hand, the families also age and we have elderly looking after elderly.

Yes, but my mother is 90 years old. She stays with me, I'm a little overloaded. (Agate)

At the same time the family can be an obstacle for the elderly to overcome challenges of the contemporary world, such as how to handle a computer for common use.

My daughter works a lot with computers. When I finished the course, here, I said - you know what, I'll do it again; at home I have no chance! If I use her computer, which has things from her work, I will spoil her job? So, I prefer to stop and don’t do it! (Sapphire)

Social participation is easier when opportunities are many and are close to where you live.

I wish I could participate more, but I have limited time. I do near home, here is a little far for me. (Jade)

Social participation

Participation is built from social transformations, thereby, collaborative practices evolve according to the social contexts. The 1990s were marked by the institutionalization of the population consult in the formulation process of public projects and policies development15. Amethyst take us to the reflection that to participating in change processes requires courage.

It’s about being aware of what is happening in the world, the problems, people. Keep yourself informed of the wrong things that people see all the time but nobody says anything, no one dares to try to change things. (Amethyst)

The coexistence through activities triggers opportunities for creativity development and, by the relationship they realize their social strength15-17.

It makes us strengthen and grow, here we get stronger with the class, with this energy exchange, exchange of thought. Today our class will meet again, for  a coffee. (Agate)

The social interaction in old age is related to good health and active involvement, therefore, being part of social and cultural activities in the community and family enables the exercise of autonomy, developing a position that requires support and respect16.

Since opened, I participate. I come every day I can. Sometimes I go out with my daughter, but I prefer to come here, I don’t need to follow her everywhere. (Sapphire)

I attend to everything I like. I don’t like the music therapy. If I don’t like, I don’t attend, and vice-versa. (Amethyst)

Elderlies, with greater autonomy, are able to make their own paths achieving their goals and knowing their limits11-17.

All activities available here, jewelry, crafts, cooking, dance, music, I participate. I’m taking easy now, due to my age. I think I overdo little considering my age. I’m happy   and everything is good. (Sapphire)

The acceleration of urban life, which leads to decreased social contacts for elderly people, especially in the family, favors the loneliness. The awareness of this fact, together with health and self-esteem leads the elderly to create their own strategies to participate in pleasant places with people they like.

Social involvement, especially for our age, I think is needed, because otherwise we are limited to our homes, washing, cooking. (Ruby)

Nowadays everybody is busy, and us, at this age, we stay home quiet. Not always, because I go out a lot with my daughter, but for most elderly I know it’s like that. (Sapphire)

For elderly, socialization also happens at volunteer work or by helping others. The elderly, when with other people, value their own autonomy, ability to work, and feel active keeping their social connections.

Social involvement is also to help others, as I do at several associations. (Pearl)

There is social participation when you, for example, work as a volunteer in a hospital, or in a Retirement Home. I intend to do that in the future. (Crystal)

All that I'm feeling good with myself, it’s for the others too. Not only for me. Helping other people, and doing something for my well-being. (Diamond)

Finally, this study inferred that social interaction for elderly have different meanings. All interviewed ladies participate in some activity at the Community Center and also outside it. This fact makes us question whether the elderly who attend the social infrastructures are those who have had a social participation during life.

As nurses, we are also concerned about those seniors who confined themselves - or are kept confined - in their houses, considering that the quality of aging is directly related to health and consequently the life quality.

Participation in socio-cultural activities helps the elderly to remain active and healthy, physically and intellectually17, however this practice shall be developed throughout life, not as an imposition to the elderly, once we are a result of our individual life choices.



The present study enabled a reflection on the meaning of social participation in a group of elderly who attend a community center, making us believe that they are finding their place in the society in a different manner.

The interaction with these women made practical and theoretical questions be raised. Changed our perception that seniors do very few activities and like to stay at home. Instead, the interviewees taught that social interaction is a result of predisposition to connect and build relationships with other people. We were encouraged to bring to the university, especially to the Nursing graduate program, reflections on the role of the nurses as educators for a healthy aging, as well as how this professional is preparing herself/himself for the old age.

Finally, we emphasize that is imperative to disseminate the concept that social interaction contributes to health of the individual and the collective, therefore should be encouraged throughout the life, understanding that aging is a process and old age is the final step of this journey.

For us, remains to understand the aging phenomenon, ensuring the participatory rights, and empower the desires of each person.



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