Carers in their neighbourhoods: Exploring the intersections of dementia, care and place

by Marjorie Silverman
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linked arms, dementia, carers

There is nascent momentum in Canada around the concept of dementia-friendly communities. A growing number of municipalities are implementing grassroots initiatives aimed at supporting people with dementia and their carers in their neighbourhoods and communities. Yet there has been little Canadian research on this topic to date, despite its interdisciplinary scope, reaching into the fields of social work, geographical gerontology, urban planning and cultural studies. How are carers experiencing and using their neighbourhoods? Where are they going, how and why? In what ways are they being supported locally?

The project ‘The everyday experiences of space, place and neighbourhood of care partners of people with dementia’ aims to answer these questions. The research examines carers’ social, relational and practical experiences in their neighbourhoods. Funded by the Alzheimer Society of Canada through a Fasken-Martineau-ASRP New Investigator Grant, it has collaborative links with the UK-based, ESRC-NIHR funded project Neighbourhoods: Our people, our places.

In order to access various aspects of carers’ everyday experiences, we have been using three data collection methods: social network maps (Emmel & Clark, 2009), which capture participants’ social connections and the link between those relationships and their daily routines; walking interviews on routes of participants’ choosing (Carpiano, 2009), which elucidate where participants go in a typical day; and participant-driven photography (Clark-Ibanez, 2004), which provides an additional view of the places and objects that participants find meaningful.

A first article has been published in the journal Dementia, based on preliminary themes from the research, the topic of walks, specifically the meaning and purpose of walks for carers of people with dementia is explored. The paper sheds light on how walks facilitate the practice of social citizenship (Bartlett & O’Connor, 2010). It discusses how walks are vital to carers’ connections to their relational, social and physical environment, and how these connections are in turn central to the practice of social citizenship.

Moving forward, together with co-investigator Elaine Wiersma, we will be investigating diverse research avenues, including but not limited to, the carers’ embodied experiences of place and what grocery stores, hair salons and coffee shops they often frequent. Our intention is to build knowledge and theory, and to assist communities in defining and articulating what it means to be supportive of people with dementia and their carers.


Carpiano, R. M. (2009). Come take a walk with me: The “go-along” interview as a novel method for studying the implications of place for health and well-being. Health & Place, 15(1), 263–272.

Clark-Ibanez, M. (2004). Framing the social world with photo-elicitation interviews. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(12), 1507–1527.

Emmel, N., & Clark, A. (2009). The methods used in connected lives: Investigating networks, neighbourhoods and communities. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, NCRM Working Paper Series.


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