“Healthy communities encompass all age groups.” – Paula Gardner, Assistant Professor Brock University
Paula Gardner, Associate Professor in Brock University’s Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, met with leaders from the Niagara Region Age-friendly Community Initiative, Niagara Region Public Health and Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) to propose the idea for the Through Their Eyes project in 2014. The organizations’ responses were extremely positive, each seeing the value this project would add to their work and help bridge the gap between the two generations.
Through Their Eyes is a hands-on community-based project dedicated to examining the age-friendliness of local communities in the Niagara Region. As an integral part of the Applied Health Sciences course “Developing Healthy Communities” at Brock University, students are assigned partners to conduct field research together over the duration of the term.
In this project, student teams are partnered with older adults to examine the health of a particular neighbourhood using a healthy community model called “Age-friendly Cities” that examines age-friendliness across 8 domains: public spaces; transportation; information and communication; housing; respect and social inclusion; social participation; civic participation and employment; health and social services. The overall goal of the project is to provide students with valuable practical experience while utilizing in-class learning about developing healthy communities.
Students are the primary data collectors for the project, assuming responsibility for conducting and reporting on the interviews with their senior counterparts. The students use “go along” interviews (a qualitative method that combines in-depth interviewing with participant observation) to work collaboratively as an “intergenerational team” to assess the age-friendliness of each neighbourhood. Thanks to the generous assistance and support from a number of participants at various senior residences, the students have been able to compile an incredible amount of useful data for the Developing Healthy Communities class and affiliated project partners. The Brock University Research Ethics Board also played a key role in the structuring of the community-based project and provided ethical clearance approving its safety for all participants.
Recruitment for the Through Their Eyes project was needed in order to have enough participants for the number of student groups in the class. The recruitment of senior participants took place at the residents’ apartment. Eligible participants for the project were over the age of 55, living in the site-specific residence, able to go outside, and were capable of understanding and answering questions from the students. After the eligibility of each participant was determined, the residents’ contact information was matched with students from the class.
“Through this community-based intergenerational project we will not only understand what makes a healthy community-we will start to build one.” – Paula Gardner
The course is designed to help students understand what makes a healthy community whilst learning how they can support the development and sustainability of these environments as informed citizens. Submerging the students in the community environment was fundamental to their learning. Older adults from the NRH Seniors Residence were logically selected as the students’ guides since they spend substantial amounts of their time in neighbourhoods close to home and have a wealth of experience and insight to share.
Using semi-structured interview guides prepared by the course instructor, two interviews were conducted with the residents for approximately one hour. The first interview was conducted in the residents’ home, and the second was a “go-along” interview and was conducted outside in their neighbourhood as the participants negotiated their environments. Both interviews were audio recorded and field notes were also taken. Throughout both of the interview processes the residents were observed, photographed, and videotaped with their consent.
Each student participated in a simulation exercise called “Experiencing Age-Related Impairments” to develop an appreciation for the effects that age-related changes in sensory-motor function have on daily living activities. To learn more about the simulation exercise, click here.
The Through Their Eyes project includes GIS mapping of the frequented areas surrounding the community being researched. This element of the project’s research enhances our ability to assess the age-friendliness of each neighbourhood. With the help of staff from the Map Library at Brock University, students gained new skills in ARC – a Geographical Information System (GIS) software program.
GIS is a computer system that allows you to view information about a geographical area in the form of a map. The students used these maps to pinpoint the domains of an age-friendly community such as community parks and green spaces, transportation routes, and locations of nearby supermarkets, churches, and health services.
The Through Their Eyes project provided students with an opportunity to not only enhance their learning experience through the promotion of the course’s overall learning objectives, but also enhanced additional learning and personal growth through reflective activities. Additionally, older adults involved in the project were provided with an opportunity to enhance their knowledge of youth/young adults. The project also provided them with an opportunity to contribute to student learning and community development.
The findings from Through Their Eyes will benefit the Niagara Age-friendly Network as they continue to develop and implement initiatives to enhance the age-friendliness of the Niagara Region.