Exploring Person-Environment Transactions Impacting Older Adults’ Community Mobility
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.
Shannon Coffey, Brennan DeMelo, Megan Roussel, Giuseppina Siciliano and Carmen Lam are second-year Master of Science in Occupational Therapy students. They have worked with Dr. Hand in the Aging and Engaging in Communities Research Lab to conduct the present study.
Coffey, S., DeMelo, B., Roussel, M., Siciliano, G., Lam, C., Hand, C.
Background: Community mobility, or navigating through the community via various modes of transportation (e.g. walking, driving, public transit), is important for fostering older adults’ engagement and participation in their communities. As Canada’s aging population increases, it is essential to understand the barriers and facilitators that impact community mobility and older adults’ ability to ‘age in place’. Community mobility is shaped by complex transactions between older adults and their environments, and research is needed that explores this complexity, to inform policy, practice, and research to promote aging-in-place.
Purpose: The present study investigated how the transactional relationship between older adults and their neighbourhoods shaped their community mobility, including strategies older adults used to navigate their neighbourhoods, meanings they ascribed to their community mobility experiences in place, and personal and environmental level facilitators and barriers that influence community mobility.
Methods: Researchers conducted a secondary analysis that drew on data from a primary ethnographic study that explored older adults’ aging-in-place and social connectedness in their neighbourhoods using qualitative and geospatial methods. Data was obtained from 14 older adults residing in two neighbourhoods in Southwestern Ontario. One neighbourhood was a smaller “village” in the center of a larger city that had numerous amenities nearby, while the second neighbourhood was situated in a suburb with some amenities in the area. Older adults participated in global positioning system tracking with activity diary completion, and go-along, narrative, and map-based interviews. This novel combination of qualitative and geo-spatial methods enabled a deep understanding of older adults’ lives in neighbourhoods and revealed much about community mobility. Researchers in the present study used this data to examine older adults’ community mobility using narrative analysis techniques to identify key ideas and themes within participants’ stories.
Findings: The researchers found four dynamic themes that contribute to older adults’ community mobility: the need for personal safety, the influence of convenience, the diverse meanings behind community mobility, and future planning in mobility. These themes were not drawn out from the data as isolated considerations, but were revealed as interconnected concepts that worked together to shape older adults’ community mobility.
Implications: City planners, policy-makers, health professionals and older adults can collaborate to help create age-friendly communities that meet the mobility needs of older adults and recognize the complexity of factors that shape community mobility. Future research can explore how diverse populations of older adults engage in community mobility within a variety of neighbourhood contexts.