We throw the word around all the time: “Take care”. “Be careful!” “I care”. But what does “care” mean? Kemptville resident, Cassandra Bunsee, is working on a project to find out. With the intention of understanding what care means to seniors in particular, she’s interested in exploring “the relationship between aging and care in Canada, specifically what everyday acts of care look like among senior citizens.”
While there have been numerous studies about how seniors receive care in the context of retirement homes or medical establishments, Cassandra is interested in what care looks like to seniors who are not receiving paid eldercare services. Seniors are not necessarily just recipients of care, they also provide care: to other members of their household or community, their pet, garden, or any number of other things.
The impetus for her study comes from Cassandra’s experience growing up in a three-generation household. As her family navigated if and when her grandmother would need to move to a long-term care facility, she became aware of “this idea in our heads of what elder care looks like, and what kinds of care older adults tend to need as they age. Conventionally, we think of nursing homes, or personal support workers. It’s always with the older person being the recipient of care.”
Cassandra says that for previous generations, “65 years was old. The life expectancy was shorter. But now, 65 isn’t necessarily that old.” This change in how people actually inhabit the category of “senior” underpins her interest in finding out “what does elder care, or care among seniors, actually look like now?”
The impact of a study like this is to adjust conventional or outdated understandings of what seniors need and value, in order to reflect the real experiences of seniors. She says, “When we think of elder care, are we thinking of the kinds of care that people are really engaged in? And if it’s not the right kind of care, what kinds of care are they doing? And how can that be reflected in policies and programs, if it isn’t being reflected there already?”
Cassandra is a student of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph. Given that classes take place virtually, however, she has been able to live in Kemptville throughout her studies. The study itself has also taken the context of COVID into account.
While anthropology relies primarily on a method known as participant observation, which depends on long-term in-person involvement, Cassandra has had to adapt her methods to accommodate distancing measures. She will be conducting interviews, and also asking participants to draw a “care-scape.” She says this is a play on the words “care and landscape.” This will allow her to “see the care as it’s happening, without actually being there.” She is also excited about how the method can incorporate imagination: “if there’s a piece of furniture that’s not actually in that room, but will help you tell the story better, then draw it! You’re the expert on your own life. Use the picture to help me understand what care looks like in your life.” Cassandra will be one of the first people to use drawing as a method in a study such as this one.
If you are interested in participating in the study, or finding out more, contact Cassandra by email at [email protected], or by phone at (519)222-5404.