Aging and Connecting in Neighbourhoods Study
This study explored the ways older adults connect and engage with others in activities neighbourhoods. We focused on the relationships between person and place, and considered how places are ever-changing and intertwined 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, as well as the barriers 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:
- A narrative-style interview, where the participant told the story of themselves in their neighbourhoods, now and over time
- A go-along interview, when participants walked with the Research Assistant to a local destination
- 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.
- An interview based on the activity diaries and maps that displayed the GPS data.
Below are maps showing the routes and locations visited by two participants.
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 are occuring. For example, they kept up to date on new construction, flowers in bloom, or wildlife like geese or goslings. In turn, participants connected with others over these neighbourhood happenings and seemed to create a sense of community through shared experience.
2. Connecting to People Inside and Outside of the Neighbourhood
Participants' social relationships ranged from close to more peripheral.
A. Everyday Neighbourhood Activites
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 Farther 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.