This study explored the ways that older adults connect with others and engage in activities neighbourhoods. We focused on the relationships between person and place, and considered how places are ever-changing and inter-twined with people. We were especially interested in how neighbourhoods can help older adults to be connected with others, be socially active, and avoid social isolation, and what barriers may be present. We asked the study participants about their daily activities, who they interact with, and what they like and dislike about their neighbourhoods. We also used some interesting combinations of research methods, to learn more about the best way to study neighbourhoods.
The study drew on ethnographic and community-based participatory methods and was guided by a panel of older adults, city planners, senior’s programming providers, representatives of community organizations and researchers. We recruited 14 older adults from two London, Ontario neighbourhoods and collected a few types of data. Each participant met with the research assistants to complete data collection, including:
1. Creating a Sense of Community
Many participants talked about being out and about in their neighbourhoods in ways that contribute to a sense of community and help create a friendly neighbourhood. Being present in the neighbourhood provided many opportunities for social interactions, such as while walking, visiting coffee shops, or shopping. Many participants made efforts to greet others, wave and smile, or start casual conversations with acquaintances and strangers alike. One participant remarked: “It doesn’t matter where we go just to see people, even if it’s a wave and a nod but you recognize that somebody.”
Being recognized by others was an important way older adults felt a sense of belonging in their neighbourhood. The study participants actively contributed to this sense of belonging for other community members through these casual social interactions.
2. Lending a Helping Hand
Participants described many instances where they contribute to their local communities by helping others. One important way was by supporting and helping other seniors. For example, one participant checks in on a neighbour a few times a week, while another participant takes her neighbour to medical appointments and helps her with household tasks.The care work that participants took on was sometimes overwhelming, and some participants reported feeling like they had to step in to help because there was no one else or no other resource to turn to. This highlights the impact of policy changes that have resulted in reduced health and social services for seniors and identifies a need for increased social supports.
3. "Movers and Shakers"
Some participants engaged politically, for example advocating for stores to remain in the neighbourhood. Other participants volunteered for local charities, churches, senior centres or neighbourhood associations. The context of one neighbourhood in particular seem to encourage this type of contribution, in that a strong neighbourhood association hosts community events that offer opportunities for contributing.
Study Findings Poster: Connecting through Activities
Please note that all poster text is below.
1. Connecting to Physical Places in the Neighbourhood
Connecting to places seems to be an important part of neighbourhood life for older adults.
a. Meaningful Places
Participants described their deep connections to physical places in their neighbourhoods. They maintained these connections through activities such as visiting meaningful places, like former homes or schools their children attended. In other cases, routine, daily activities like walking the dog or reading the paper at a local library seemed to create a sense of attachment to neighbourhood places.
b. Keeping Tabs
Many participants maintained a sense of connection to neighbourhood areas where changes were occuring. For example, they kept up to date on new construction, flowers in bloom, or wildlife like geese and goslings. In turn, participants connected with others over these neighbourhood happenings and seemed to create a sense of community through shared experiences.
2. Connecting to People Inside and Outside of the Neighbourhood
Participants' social relationships ranged from close to more peripheral
a. Everyday Neighbourhood Activities
Common activities within neighbourhoods, such as shopping or walking, appeared to be a key way that participants maintained a sense of connection to their neighbours and neighbourhoods. Some participants described going to local places, hoping to see friends and acquaintances.
This finding highlighted the importance of having easily accessible amenities and places in neigbourhoods that can support casual social interactions and relationships.
b. Going Father Afield
Many participants took part in meaningful leisure or social activities outside of their neighbourhoods, such as participating in bridge clubs, walking groups, seniors' centres, and the YMCA. Participants appeared to have deeper social ties in these settings and the activites seemed more closely linked to their interests.
Over time, older adults may face challenges in accessing out-of-neighbourhood places and activities, suggesting a need for increased leisure and social opportunities within neighbourhoods.