Author ORCID Identifier

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Denise Burnette

Second Advisor

Humberto Fabelo

Third Advisor

Kyeongmo Kim

Fourth Advisor

Tracey Gendron


Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and resulted in adverse long-term outcomes. Psychological sense of community (PSOC) may serve as a protective factor against the effects of Hurricane María for older adults in Puerto Rico. Using a three-paper format, this dissertation draws on a resilience framework and theories of PSOC and the Ecological Theory of Aging to examine the role of PSOC among older adults in Puerto Rico two years after Hurricane María.

Paper one is a scoping review of the concept of PSOC in research with community dwelling older adults. I begin by presenting findings on study characteristics and conceptualization and operationalization of PSOC in the final sample of 33 articles. I then use deductive thematic analysis to explore topical research areas. These themes were (1) built environment and neighborhoods; (2) social participation and connection; (3) civic participation; (4) PSOC as a protective factor; (5) health and well-being; (6) relocation; and (7) scale development. PSOC was a consistent predictor of health and well-being for older adults and served as a mechanism to link neighborhood or environmental characteristics with health and well-being. I present relevance to theory, policy and practice, and suggestions for future directions of research.

Papers two and three used data from a cross-sectional study of 154 older adults in Puerto Rico two years after Hurricane María. Paper two presents psychometric testing of the Brief Sense of Community Scale (BSCS), which is a popular measure of PSOC but has yet to be tested with older adults. The BSCS showed good internal consistency reliability (α = .85) and was correlated in expected directions with measures of social network size (r = .34, p < .001) and loneliness (r = -.27, p < .001). Confirmatory factor analysis results showed a higher-order four-factor model was the best fit (χ2 (16) = 20.78, p = .187; CFI = .997, TLI = .995, SRMR = .026, RMSEA= .044, 90% CI [< .001, .092]). Paper three used two hierarchical linear regression models to examine the association of PSOC with self-rated health (SRH) and quality of life (QOL), while accounting for relevant risk factors and covariates. Higher levels of PSOC was associated with better SRH (B = 0.03, p = .04) and higher QOL (B = 0.26, p < .001).

This dissertation provides evidence of the importance of PSOC for health and well-being for older adults in general, and in Puerto Rico following María. The BSCS is a valid and reliable measure of PSOC for this population and should be used in research and clinical practice settings. I present strategies for building and maintaining PSOC in a culturally relevant framework for older adults in Puerto Rico. Findings may also be relevant to other areas that experience natural disasters and population aging.


© Thomas D. Buckley

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