Aging and Connecting in Neighbourhoods Study

Aging and Connecting in Neighbourhoods Study

Background

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.

Research Approach

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. A narrative-style interview, where the participant told the story of themselves in their neighbourhoods, now and over time
  2. A go-along interview, when participants walked with the Research Assistant to a local destination
  3. Wearing a GPS tracking device and filling out an activity diary for 4 days. The following two images are examples of a participant tracked using GPS tracking device. Click on images to open larger versions on new tab.

  4. Example of participant 1 Example of participant 2
  5. An interview based on the activity diaries and maps that displayed the GPS data.

Findings

Older adults are impacting their neighbourhoods in important ways


Poster illustrating findings
Study Findings Poster: Older Adults Impacting their Neighbourhoods
  Please note that all poster text is below

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"

Several participants reported working to make changes to their neighbourhood at the community level. Patronizing and supporting local businesses was important for many participants. One remarked, “businesses come and go and wanting certain businesses to stay and so that’s why I [patronize them].”

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.

  Creating Connections Through Neighbourhood Activities


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.