On March 8th, 2017, the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging, in collaboration with Trent University, brought together faculty, students (current and alumni), seniors, and community partners with an interest in social aspects of aging, to take part in an event focused on the “Futures of Aging”. To begin the day, a faculty panel of leading researchers, Dr. Gavin Andrews (McMaster), Dr. Amanda Grenier, (McMaster), Dr. Meridith Griffin (McMaster) and Dr. Stephen Katz (Trent) spoke about the future of aging research in Canada. This panel was then followed by a poster session featuring student work on aging, and a keynote presentation delivered by Dr. Neil Hanlon (University of Northern British Columbia), who discussed the unique aspects of aging in resource-dependent places.
We, the Gilbrea Student group, identified three overarching themes that stood out through out the day: New Vulnerabilities, Space and Place, and the Voices of Aging. These dominant discourses came to the surface as key challenges and considerations facing the future of aging research.
The topic of age-friendly communities, rural communities and less accessible locations brought interesting discussions on how vulnerable populations, experience aging based on dominant aging discourses. Emphasized by Dr. Grenier, Dr. Griffin and Dr. Katz, it was suggested that moving forward, emphasis be placed on language and concepts such as ‘successful aging’ or ‘active aging’, their use, and the potential for such normative terms to exacerbate several inequalities in late life. With the prominence of consumerism in contemporary culture, older people who are also part of marginalized groups are often left little to reference, with structural inequalities exacerbating vulnerabilities, insecurities and risk in late life. With this in mind, the materiality of embodied aging and emphasis on the economical-structural-political and cultural identity of the aging experience will hopefully present to be the foreground in the investigation of the aging demographic in the future.
Space and Place
Leading from the panel presentation of Dr. Andrews and elaborated further by Dr. Hanlon’s talk, the importance of incorporating and understanding how geographical locations and communities ultimately influence the aging population was also at the forefront of the conversations throughout the day. Specifically, with longevity and demographic change, “people are changing places and places are changing people”. This feedback loop and reciprocity brings to light how services and resources can adapt to suit the needs of the changing demographic, and in hand how the populations are adapting to these amenities as well. With important questions such as, “what can we learn from the ‘edge’ – the smaller communities the rural areas of Canada?” Dr. Hanlon offered insight on the implications that development and strong community ties can have within a smaller community experiencing demographic change. With much aging research focused on the ‘wealthy’ boomers and the urbanization of communities, these discussions highlighted and gave rise to questions pertaining to how rural and less accessible locations can be included in these ‘age-friendly’ regimes in the future.
Voices of Aging
Sparked by a senior member in the audience, who ultimately noted, “Nobody asked me what I think?” brought to the forefront the importance and utility of incorporating older people in the present and future of aging research. Specifically, the importance of bringing older voices to the table, in not only the planning process and the formation of questions, but in the discourse of the research and their incorporation as key stakeholders. Although moving in this direction, many current research projects do not always discuss or consult with older people in the community regarding current initiatives or inquiries. This initiative could potentially prove to be an integral component and means for knowledge mobilization in the aging field, with the demographic being ‘targeted’ to have first hand experience in its implementation.
This event brought together leading scholars in the field of gerontology to discuss the futures of aging, shedding light on the ecological and critical application of aging research. These conversations seeded stimulating topics of discussion among students who are interested in the growing demographic. Moving forward, the “Futures of Aging” looks promising with the forefront being the realities of age-friendly communities and neighborhoods, the value of braiding knowledge and scholarship within communities and the importance of integrating a critical lens within all levels of society.