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Exploring the Social Meaning of Aging and of Neighbourhood Programs and Facilities for Older Residents: Ethnographic Accounts from Vancouver

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This study investigates a neglected aspect of the emerging social and professional concern with the demographic trend toward an aging population. Specifically, it examines some commonly encountered discursive assumptions about the capacities and requirements of adults aged 65 and older and considers potential difficulties involved in relying upon these to guide thinking about how to provide for the needs of people in this age category. The second part of the project presents the findings from ethnographic interviews conducted with 13 seniors (aged 65 years and over) who reside within Vancouver neighbourhoods. These findings provide detailed accounts of individuals’ daily lives and how they perceive and meet their social needs both within and beyond the confines of organized neighbourhood programs and facilities. These accounts are then analyzed to assess the degree to which the lived experiences and expressed needs of these individuals align with discursive representations of the lifestyles of seniors, representations that figure in academic accounts and the discursive statements of various organizations that attempt to speak and act on behalf of older adults. In allowing participants to speak for themselves, this study both complicates and enriches our understanding of an often taken-for-granted or ‘spoken about’ category of people by highlighting variation between individuals. The research findings suggest a need to consider ways in which assumptions used to inform policy and planning for categories of people are made and the importance of ongoing inclusion of persons aged 65 and older in dialogues concerning them.
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