Dr. Carri Hand is an assistant professor in the School of Occupational Therapy at the University of Western Ontario. In her research she aims to understand older adults’ lives in their neighbourhoods, focusing on how social, cultural and physical neighbourhood characteristics shape participation in occupations, connections with others, and sense of belonging. With community and academic partners, she brings together methods from occupational therapy, geography, and social science to develop new ways of studying neighbourhoods and promoting inclusion. Her research provides insight into the development of neighbourhood features, policy and practices; how health professionals can better promote social inclusion and connectedness in older adults; and how health services can better link with neighbourhood resources. Dr. Hand also leads the Aging and Engaging in Communities Research Lab at the University of Western, Ontario.
Exploring Older Women’s Leisure and Social Engagement in Time and Place
Introduction: Continued engagement in community life is a key part of active aging; developing policy, practice, and environments to support older adults’ community engagement is critical within efforts to promote active aging. To inform such efforts, more complex understandings are needed regarding how older adults engage in community activities over time, as situated in place. Transactional perspectives of place, that consider person and place as inseparable and continually transacting over time, can help to understand the complexity of community engagement. In addition, gender-based differences in the activity patterns of older adults exist, suggesting a need to examine the experiences of men and women separately. Objective: To explore the ways in which older women engage in community and social activities, as shaped by person-neighbourhood transactions over time. Methods: 12 older women took part in an ethnographic study that included a novel combination of qualitative and geo-spatial methods. Participants engaged in narrative interviews, go-along interviews, global positioning system tracking, completing activity diaries and map-based interviews. Analysis attended to identifying key storylines and integrating diverse types of data. Results: The women’s stories revolved around two themes: continuity within leisure over time and social engagement as a work in progress. The women demonstrated differing patterns of achieving continuity within their leisure occupations. One pattern involved doing the same activities, at the same venues, throughout one’s life, while another pattern involved maintaining habits, such as ‘keeping busy’, and engaging in new activities. The participants also worked to maintain desired levels of social engagement in the face of continually evolving social networks, loss, and re-location. Participants’ social networks were typically closely linked to their neighbourhoods and the places they frequented. Conclusion: The results deepen our understanding of the complexity of older women’s leisure and social engagement by highlighting issues such as continuity and change over time, habits, loss, and importance of place. Findings can inform neighbourhood planning policy, health care practice with older women and development of neighbourhood-based leisure opportunities and gathering places. Future research can continue to explore community engagement over time with diverse populations of older adults and develop and evaluate neighbourhood-based strategies to support older adults’ meaningful community participation, social network development, and aging-in-place.