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Conversations with the Team: Susan Braedley 

By: Aleah McCook
An Interview with Dr. Susan Braedley

The Imagining Age-Friendly “Communities within Communities” project aims to reconceptualize aging to enhance the effectiveness of age-friendly practices in communities. This project involves the collaboration of researchers with expertise across several fields of study, bringing a broad range of perspectives about aging.
 
As an Imagining Age-Friendly Researcher, we asked Dr. Susan Braedley a few questions about her experience. Dr. Braedley is an Associate Professor at Carleton University in the School of Social Work. She contributes her expertise on FPE, long-term care (LTC), physical environments equity and access, as well as on comparative social policy and mixed method research.
 
What does your disciplinary perspective bring into the conversation of imagining aging for cities and the communities within communities?
I am a sociologist, a feminist political economist and a social worker. I also have a bachelor’s degree in English literature. Each of these “disciplines” brings something to this conversation.
Sociology has theorized urban spaces and urban social relations, has developed notions of cosmopolitanism, citizenship, alienation and inclusion, has been at the forefront along with humanities in understandings of population aging at multiple levels of analysis, and has a robust feminist scholarship on the family, care, and the state.
Feminist political economy is particularly attentive to the intersecting relations of gender, race and class, including how they are constituted by and constituting social life. It is unapologetically emancipatory and collective. These values shape how the team works together to conduct and share the research processes, including with participants and communities. Humanities allow us to consider the evidence of art and story, including historical narratives, that tell us how humans make sense of and make meaning from their lives and experiences.
Social work also brings a useful perspective to our project. Social work provides us with tools that we can incorporate into our research process to both recognize that many older people from subordinated, oppressed and/or marginalized communities have experienced significant trauma in their lives, including inter-generational, or otherwise shared trauma of being one of these communities. Social work methods have allowed us to learn and develop trauma-sensitive interviewing approaches, and to develop a deeper reflexivity as researchers.
 
 
In what ways does studying promising practices advance our normative aims of age-equity and age-inclusivity?
A focus on promising practices allows us to SHOW how the relations of aging could be shifted in the direction of age equity, which, by the way, is not always in the direction of age inclusivity.  I do not see these as a spectrum of good, better, best, but as sometimes quite contradictory.
That said, the focus on promising practices acknowledges that there are not best practices, but rather that context matters. Thus, we focus not just on promising practices, but on the CONDITIONS that allow for promising practices, and the context in which the practice is promising. This allows us to assess contradictions, paradoxes and unintended consequences that may surround a promising practice, to offer cogent assessments of the costs and benefits of policy moves, as one example. Age equity includes costs, and we need to understand to whom. For example, both paid and unpaid care workers are often the ones who “pay” for increased age inclusion, offering necessary support to older adults for low wages, insecure working conditions and high health and safety risks. Our project is attentive to these issues.
 
What are some approaches to aging in the specific contexts (e.g., Indigenous context, immigrant context, gender context, etc.) that are needed for age-equity and age-inclusivity?
I think it is too soon to answer this question fully.  However, for immigrant older adults, an approach needs to take into account people’s life conditions. The most concerning conditions for immigrant older adults are being socially isolated due to poverty, language, family dynamics, stigmas around dementia and immigration status.  We have many immigrant older adults who are in Canada irregularly, over-staying a visa and living with family due to poor health, including dementia. We have others who have been sponsored by their families, basically as live-in child care.  Living in their children’s homes, constrained by care responsibilities, they are sometimes entirely isolated. Another group are refugee older adults who have come to Canada recently.  All of these older adults need to be approached in a language they understand, with outreach methods that can meet them in their situations and ensure their safety and respect. This is extremely challenging.
 
 
More about Dr. Braedley and her research can be found online at   https://carleton.ca/socialwork/people/susan-braedley/

Conversations with the Team: Julia Brassolotto

By: Aleah McCook
An Interview with Dr. Julia Brassolotto

The “Imagining Age-Friendly “communities within communities” project involves the collaboration of researchers with expertise across several fields of study. As an Imagining Age-Friendly Researcher, we asked Dr. Julia Brassolotto a few questions about her experience with the project and perspectives on aging.
Dr. Brassolotto is an Associate Professor in the Public Health Program (Faculty of Health Sciences) at the University of Lethbridge. She holds an AIHS Research Chair in Rural Health and Well-being. Her expertise and research interests are in health equity perspectives, care of older adults, and the use of philosophical frameworks. 
 
How should we imagine aging?
I would suggest that we imagine aging as a process of becoming richer in experience and wisdom, more textured in our identities, and more accepting of change and growth. In summer 2019, I visited my relatives in Italy. My father’s cousin Melchiorre, who is 84 was showing me some old family photos. There was one of him and his wife Batastina from 60 years ago. She said, “Ah, that’s back when I was thinner and you had hair”. He replied, “Yes. That was when we lived to be seen. Now we have become who we are” (it sounded even more poetic in Italian). I loved that idea of aging as a process of self-actualization and increasing attention to ‘what really matters’, a shedding of a need to meet particular standards or expectations, and simultaneously having a clearer sense of self and being open to new ways of seeing the world.
 
What does your disciplinary perspective bring into the conversation of imagining aging for cities and the communities within communities?
As someone with two degrees in philosophy and one in health policy, who now teaches in public health, I am not sure what my disciplinary perspective is! I think that the perspective that I have acquired from this combination of disciplines is one that offers considerations of ethics, stories, their intersections with systems and policies, and a sense of collective interest.
 
In what ways does studying promising practices advance our normative aims of age-equity and age-inclusivity?
Studying promising practices can advance our aims of age-equity and age-inclusivity because it focuses on what is working and what is possible, and inherent in that are momentum and inspiration (at least for me). By examining what is promising for others, we can learn from the wisdom of a range of communities. The insights gleaned from one jurisdiction can be catalyzed into uses in other contexts, and with local adaptations. During this Covid-19 time that is somewhat age-unfriendly, and in which the failures of our elder care systems are in sharp focus, looking at what is good and what is possible feels particularly welcome and important.
 
 
More about Dr. Brassolotto and her work can be found at https://directory.uleth.ca/users/julia.brassolotto
 
 
 

We asked Elias Chaccour to discuss his experience being a member of our team!

By: Elias Chaccour, PhD Candidate, School of Health Policy, York University
One year later: A reflection on my experience with “Imagining Age-Friendly.”
 
            One year ago, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting, I joined the “Imagining Age-Friendly ‘Communities within Communities’” project as a doctoral trainee. Needless to say, I did not expect that the second year of my PhD studies would be spent at home. Although the past year has been challenging in every way, working with the “Imagining Age-Friendly” team was an outlet that kept me intellectually stimulated and allowed me to process the pandemic holistically and critically. 
 
            I decided to pursue a PhD after spending ten years working in the healthcare system, either in the hospital setting or in provincial health organizations. More recently, I had the privilege of working with Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario, where I was engaged in several projects that aimed to create a healthcare system that is more accessible, effective, and culturally safe for Indigenous people in the region. My experiences with northern communities inspired me to return to school and pursue a career as a researcher. After expressing my interests in aging research to Dr. Sean Hillier and Dr. Tamara Daly, they invited me to join the “Imagining Age-Friendly” team and supported me ever since in navigating my PhD studies.
            
            As an Arabic-speaking Lebanese immigrant to Canada who has experienced years of war as a child, I am interested in understanding how immigrants who have survived trauma experience aging in Canada and how they create meaning through social, cultural, and familial connections. Specifically, I am interested in investigating the strategies that Arabic-speaking immigrant communities use to maintain a sense of meaning and cultural safety for their older adult members. Arabic-speaking people from the Middle East have experienced decades of war, sporadic bouts of violence, and political and economic instability. Also, studies have shown that trauma is highly prevalent among older adults who have survived wars, although many may be asymptomatic. As such, Canadian cities that aspire to be age-friendly should be prepared to offer an environment where these older adults feel safe, connected, and welcomed. Arabic-speaking immigrants in Canada grow old while navigating an intersecting web of cultural and social circumstances that impose various stressors on themselves and their family caregivers. For many immigrants, the family is the primary provider of emotional and social support, and many are reluctant to expand their network of relationships outside of their family, cultural and linguistic communities. Like other displaced groups, Arabic-speaking immigrants face many challenges concerning acculturation and integration into Canadian society. These individuals also come from a culture rooted in the belief that family members are responsible for their older relatives’ wellbeing. As such, I also hope to understand how age-friendly communities can account for the needs of families who care for their older adult members.
 
            As a doctoral trainee with the “Imagining Age-Friendly” project, I have had the pleasure to work closely with many leading scholars in the fields of aging and health equity. I am grateful for their guidance in navigating my academic career and their support in honing my research skills. Working with this international team has exposed me to various theoretical concepts and increased my understanding of intersectional feminist political economy. Most importantly, the “Imagining Age-Friendly” project has provided me with an intellectual space and a community of peers that encourage me to explore my research interests. Also, the project has facilitated my participation in developing journal publications, knowledge translation activities and conference presentations. Markedly, the project allowed me to participate in the global academic conversation on COVID-19 and the experiences of older adults during the pandemic.
 
            The “Imagining Age-Friendly” project has allowed me to launch my academic career with sound footing and enjoy the genuine support of a community of researchers who are eager to share their knowledge with me. As I embark on my 3rd year of PhD studies, I reflect on the immense role this team has played in helping me stay focused and supported me in growing professionally even amid a global pandemic. I can only imagine what exciting and enriching experiences we will have once we can meet in person again. 

We asked Christine Streeter to discuss her experience being a member of our team!

By: Christine Streeter, PhD Candidate, School of Social Work, Carleton University 
 
In late 2018 I joined the Age-Friendly project as a second-year PhD social work and political economy student.  My interest in care work research had me feeling both excited and intimidated when I first joined such a large project of esteemed international scholars in the field and whose research I’ve read very intimately. I joined this project as it aligned with my interests in approaching my work with a feminist political economist lens and as someone curious to learn more about critical ethnographic methods. So, I kept my anxieties in my back pocket and entered into fieldwork with a group of dedicated and brilliant researchers. 
 
Since joining the project, I was fortunate enough to participate in two different site studies, one in Toronto and the other in Ottawa. During this time, the team’s inclusive learning approach allowed me to feel supported in the field.  I never felt alone as I was always included in discussions and was accompanied with a senior researcher as a mentor. Throughout these site studies, I learned so much from the research team – both the International researchers and the other graduate and undergraduate students’ part of the project. I also learned from the participants we were able to chat with – older adults, managers, workers, and volunteers. I learned how inequalities and differences, such as race, gender, ability, and sexuality, play out in older adults’ lived experiences and policy assumptions. 
 
During and in-between site studies, I participated in workshops, such as building interviewing, field note writing, and analysis skills. We further continued critical and engaging conversations about age-friendliness and what we learned in the site studies through theme groups and the project’s seminar series. These processes have provided me with safe learning spaces to collaborate with colleagues on pieces regarding the current funding structures in the non-profit sector and how they impact working conditions and conditions of care for older adults. This experience has also provided the opportunity to collaborate with community partners like CUPE and Egale on a project concerning Public Services that Work for LGBTQ2+ Older Adults and LGBTQ2+ Workers in Canada.
 
Working in a team has provided a space to bounce ideas off each other, examine approaches and methods critically and carefully, and consider multiple perspectives, professional expertise, and experiences. Through learning both in theory and practice, I continue to grow my confidence in employing my research skills. Additionally, I have gained firsthand insights to consider how I intend to use ethnographic methods and a feminist political economy approach in my dissertation research.
 
My dissertation research will be using a slice of the existing data set from Ottawa site visit, collected in June 2019, including the interviews with the managers, workers, and volunteers, field notes of work observation and organizational and policy background. This existing data will provide the base to build my original data set, to be collected this spring 2021. My research asks: How have NPSS sector workers’, who serve older adults, material and affective conditions of work changed or shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21? How are workers and the organizations in which they work, responding, adapting and/or resisting these changes and shifts? And what can these experiences tell us about understanding the structure of feelings in work, economy, and society?  I hope my research will positively contribute to the Age-Friendly project. 
 
Although I am completing my thesis research alone, it feels far from it – as this community has provided me with crucial perspectives, critical questions, and unwavering support in my time as a PhD candidate, early career researcher and scholar.  I am eager and committed to continue learning from and working with the team to enhance the effectiveness of age-friendly practices for all older adults and those who work in the care sector. 
 
 
 
 

APRIL 3 – ‘DEATH-FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES EASE FEAR OF AGING AND DYING WITH JULIA BRASSOLOTTO
https://www.iheartradio.ca/newstalk-1010/audio/podcasts/april-3-death-friendly-communities-ease-fear-of-aging-and-dying-1.14908507
 

Public Services Safety for LGBTQ2+ Older Adults and Workers Launch! 11/03/ 2021

An Interview with Sally Chivers

Q1 – What do we need to consider when we think about age-friendly cities
 
Age-friendly requires what I call ‘age integration.’ Our research focuses on older adults, as a group of people with particular needs, desires and contributions to make. But we also consider older people as part of a larger fabric that crosses generations. Many initiatives focus on intergenerational connections between old and young. That’s a great start, but the approach leaves out a wide swath of people from across ages and stages. In creating a truly Age-Friendly city, our project considers spaces that already congregate groups of people from across generations and across backgrounds, such as libraries, farmers markets, faith-based places, community choirs, and more.  This makes sure we’re considering not only how older adults benefit from being around children, but also how the middle generations are part of age-friendly communities.
 
Q 2 – What do we need to pay attention to in terms of media, film and literary representations of aging? 

Media, film and literature matter are the social and cultural pedagogy of our time. They teach us who we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to behave through appeals to the imagination. How we imagine aging affects what kinds of cities we can build and create and transform.
 
In mainstream media, the first thing we need to pay attention to is ageism, both blatant mockery or stereotypes and subtle insinuations that all older people need to look and act the same way, i.e. like younger people but with grey hair and maybe a couple of wrinkles. Grace and Frankie is a good example of a TV show that seems to value aging but also reduces it to ongoing productivity, activity, and beauty among the wealthy. 
 
My research has found that literature has the potential to present a richer, more resonant view and perspective on aging than what we’re used to from mainstream media. A well-wrought novel can bring the reader in to share a mind space and an attitude on the world with an imagined older character. It can use figurative language, like metaphors and similes, to get out of the patterns that come with having human actors represent an older person. Of course, this is also possible with TV and especially with film, but the potential is richer within literature. 
 
The problem with that, of course, is that people read less and less literature and are turning more and more to video and other forms of visual culture. So that’s why our project is committed to creating new multi-media representations. 
 
Q3. Current discourse around aging and age-related health issues are centred around a cure vs. care narrative – Let’s either cure Aging or Let’s help care for aging. How can discourses on care and aging be reconsidered that promote broader understandings of aging?
 
Our research has long been part of the so-called relational turn where we emphasize that care is a relationship. When care is talked about as a relationship, it comes across discursively as one directional with examples such as a mother caring for her disabled child or a family caregiver figuring out strategies to help someone with dementia in their home. 
 
I would love to see the discourse pick up what we have found in our qualitative research, which is that a family caregiver might take care of someone with dementia at home and the person with dementia is still contributing meaning, life, structure, and even joy day-to-day. This is why, as I said in the previous answer, deliberately artistic and imaginative visions of aging can help us rethink and broaden past a cure vs care approach in which care then becomes either a burden or an act of charity. If you’re looking for an example, try watching the movie Mango Dreams, and then we can talk about how it intervenes in dominant ideas about care as one-directional. 
 
Q4. How can we reconcile tensions between an ageist and an age-friendly approach to aging in society? 
 
The Age-Friendly movement developed in response to widespread ageism. But it was slowed right out of the gate by its attachment to prescriptive ideas of Active Aging and Healthy Aging that rest on ageist thinking.
 
Cultural gerontologists and critical gerontologists have pushed back against active aging for years because of the ways that it forwards neoliberal goals and because of the ways it promotes a form of ageism. If we want a genuinely age inclusive world, we have to get away from valorizing active aging in a way that ignores a range of activities and ways of being in late life. Frode Jacobsen, a member of our team, has published a phenomenal article that goes through the use of these kinds of terms in Norwegian white papers. Every time I read it, I find something new. That work offers a launch point from which we can really notice the harm that the idea of active aging can do, as well as to come up with other ways to talk about aging constructively.
 
Q5. Why is it important to consider gender and racialization when we consider aging and ageism?  
 
To adapt a popular saying, our age studies will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. 
 
I don’t see how we can talk about ageism without talking about gender and racialization. And I would add ableism. Aging is a gendered process, a social process and a racialized process. 
 
If you hear the phrase “residents in a nursing home,” who do you picture?  What do they look like? How old are they? How do they move around? What is their gender? I think if you take a moment and do that, you’ll notice how aging and our own internalized ageism is racialized. Who is believed to deserve good care is a highly racialized category, and so is who does the underpaid and undervalued work of care.   
 
Finally, it’s essential that age doesn’t replace gender and race as an identity category. We don’t want people becoming old instead of being a woman, for example. That’s something Susan Sontag wrote about as the double bind of aging for women. Beyond that, in invoking intersectionality, we have to go beyond adding identity descriptors to account for lived experiences and social structures. That’s why we arrange our research team in theme groups that investigate lived experiences, organization, and constructions of aging as they relate to power and identity. 
 

Interview With Martha McDonald


We asked Dr. Martha McDonald to answer a couple questions about her experience as an Imagine Aging Researcher:


Q1. Could you please tell us about yourself, your research and your interests?
I am an economist at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, NS Canada. I trained as a labour economist and largely self-trained as a political economist. My early research on labour market segmentation and inequality led to an increased focus on gender. My research moved beyond the labour market to focus more on livelihoods and the importance of unpaid work.  Livelihoods are also highly dependent on government policy. My policy work has looked at EI and other income security and social policies, as well as industry policies. It is in the context of research on labour market restructuring in rural Atlantic Canada that I first studied home care and long term care, as these are important employers. My research has always been interdisciplinary. I was approached by Pat Armstrong, with whom I have collaborated over the years, to join the Reimagining Long Term Residential Care project as it was being developed.  My work on that project drew on my social policy interests as well as my interest in conditions of work.  Unpaid work also features strongly in long term care, so it brought together many of my interests. I still do not see myself as an expert on aging. On the personal front, I have two grown children and one granddaughter, who now live outside my region. I remain very grounded in my life in Nova Scotia, though I love to collaborate with colleagues from around the world. I also like to welcome colleagues to Nova Scotia. COVID-19  has put a serious damper on these interactions.


Q2. Why did you chose to join the project, what drew you to the project?
My involvement in this project grew out of the Reimagining Long Term Residential Care project. I was keen to continue working with the great group of international colleagues and friends from that project. I also liked the idea that this project would not focus on one program or type of institution, but would take a broader look at aging. I like getting out in the neighbourhoods. 



 Q3. How should we imagine aging? 
The life course is a process, and aging is not something that abruptly happens. People may spend as many years being seniors as they did in paid work or raising children, and we need to think about people’s opportunities and needs through all those years.  In our market-driven economy aging can be more like a cliff you drop off, where all the chickens come home to roost. Like a game of musical chairs, you land on a place that embodies all the inequities of a life-time, reflected in your health, income, social supports and opportunities. The project focuses on these ‘communities within communities’, recognizing that the experience of aging can be very different.  Imagining aging should meet people where they are with a vision to enhance their lives.  This means focusing on the structural factors that reproduce inequities, inhibit well-being and limit options. 


Q4. What does your disciplinary perspective bring into the conversation of imagining aging for cities and the communities within communities project?
At this point in my career, I’m not sure if I still have a disciplinary perspective! Perhaps I ask some different questions in policy analysis, coming from a feminist economics perspective.  I am also comfortable taking on economists, who have undo influence in the policy environment. I find in this project, more than any other, I am particularly interested in the contributions of cultural studies to the discourse on aging, and enjoy learning from those with non-social science backgrounds.


Q5. In what ways does studying promising practices advance our normative aims of age-equity and age-inclusivity?  
We learn more looking at what is promising than revealing what is bad. Sometimes it is simple things that make the difference, things that look obvious once you see them in action. As an economist trained primarily in secondary data analysis, I always thought you needed to talk to people to fully understand an issue or empirical finding. Now I realize it’s more than just talking. You need to observe carefully, take in the feel of an environment, watch people engage (or not). I think that is why our digital cues have been so powerful.