Sociologists from across the country have been exploring ways to better capture and represent the voices and experiences of those living in aged care and now, existing research has been extended to explore now the interpersonal aspects of sociology could positively impact gerontology.
Two years ago, Monash sociologist Doctor Barbara Barbosa Neves and a group of researchers – including an acclaimed Australian author – began looking into loneliness among residents of Australian aged care facilities. Now, the unique research project has been updated, extended, illustrated and published in The Gerontologist journal with accompanying comic-like art.
The sociological concepts in both papers hold that these stories and illustrations can contain subtleties and moods not often apparent in drier research.
Reports also show more than 40% of aged care residents in Australia did not get any visitors before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Co-author Josephine Wilson and illustrator Amanda Brooks came on board to create the literature and corresponding art after immersing themselves in hours of interviews with residents – exploring their experience, understanding of loneliness, and how they address it.
The paper and art is based on the experiences of two residents Gurney* and Patricia*. Both Gurney and Patricia touch on ageism, stereotypes, and how those around them rarely take their point of view seriously.
Both felt isolated, and both offered what the researchers call “micro forms of resistance”, such as refusing bingo or smuggling a private kettle into their room, and both often used their imaginations, as reflected in the stories and drawings.
The Ageing Population – A Different Lens, by Monash University
Gurney, a former hospital warden who loves aircraft and hates bingo, is 90 and originally confessed he felt lonely all day – but joked it was “no more than once a day”.
Patricia, 79, worked in a factory, married a “wonderful man”, had four children, and went ballroom dancing. While in aged care, she spent her days looking at a row of trees out her window which represented a constant presence for her.
Dr Neves explained that gerontology frequently focuses heavily on the biomedical aspects of ageing, whereas social sciences can look at social and cultural dimensions “to understand ageing beyond ‘biological decline’”.
She said “Most of our participants do not tell their family or friends that they’re lonely because of the stigma of loneliness, and because they already feel that they’re so dependent, this just brings another layer of personal failure.”
“A lot of the work in gerontology is about sensorial decline. We wanted to bring a different way of thinking. How can we use the senses through artistic collaborations to really understand not just what people say and what they report, but what they feel, what they sense, what they perform? How do they inhabit this social world?” she said.
*Pseudonyms used to protect identities