UBC researcher examines COVID-19 through the eyes of seniors in West End

The gallery’s opening on Wednesday marked the first time Callista Ottoni had personally met many of her research subjects, despite working with them for more than two years during her research.

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A photo exhibition at Barclay Manor in Vancouver highlights the experiences of seniors in the West End during the peak of the pandemic lockdowns.

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The exhibit, which opened Wednesday and runs through October 12 at the headquarters of the West End Seniors Network, is connected to a research project examining the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of Vancouver seniors living outside the long term, has investigated. care system.

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“I asked them if they wanted to take pictures of moments when they felt connected or isolated in their neighborhood,” Callista Ottoni, a PhD student at the University of BC, said of her research.

Ottoni said the photos she received tended to focus on three main themes: access to green space, home comfort and technology. One image captures an early morning walk in the park after coming out of lockdown. Another captures the ever-ubiquitous video chat.

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Ottoni then used the photos to engage the seniors in conversation.

Study author Callista Ottani (left) with a guest at the opening night of the photo exhibition at Barclay Manor in Vancouver, September 28, 2022. Photo: Jess MacAleese
Study author Callista Ottani (left) with a guest at the opening night of the photo exhibition at Barclay Manor in Vancouver, September 28, 2022. Photo: Jess MacAleese jpg

“I’m the oldest person in the building, I think,” Hilary, an 84-year-old study participant who lives alone in a West End apartment, said during a research interview. Surnames of study participants were redacted for privacy reasons.

“My neighbor is a young man, he’s about 35,” Hilary said. “He loves to bake, so I open my door and there’s a box of cookies or brownies. He said, “What can I get you?” So I gave him a list. And he’s given me Lysol sanitizer and masks and — he’s just a sweetheart.”

“Our research confirms that many older adults looked directly to their neighbors for emergency supplies and social support,” Ottoni wrote in an article published in the journal Health & Place.

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Nobody likes to talk about loneliness or social isolation, Ottoni said.

“Having the photos in a public setting gives it a starting point to potentially have more personal conversations. It’s almost like an ice breaker.

“We form connections and meanings to different places that we may not be able to express in words, but if we have feelings about it and if we are able to show, not tell, then it becomes a more intimate experience and a more personal experience and a more shared human experience,” Ottoni said.

A visitor signs the comment board during the opening night of a photo exhibition featuring work shot by seniors from the West End during the pandemic lockdown.  The event took place at Vancouver's Barclay Manor, on September 28, 2022.
A visitor signs the comment board during the opening night of a photo exhibition featuring work shot by seniors from the West End during the pandemic lockdown. The event took place at Vancouver’s Barclay Manor on September 28. Photo By: Jess MacAleese Photo by Callista Ottani/UBC

After asking the participants to take pictures, Ottoni, who has a background in making documentaries, met them over the phone or online chat. Her project is based on a widely used method of qualitative research called ‘photo voice’, which gives subjects the opportunity to direct research questions through photography.

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“It really empowers the participants to lead you to what matters most so that they become the leaders,” she said of the technique.

“We knew very little about what was going on in the everyday lives of older adults, outside of long-term care. An important distinction is that my research focuses on people who live in society.”

In her article, Ottoni calls on community leaders to ensure that, as pandemic restrictions are lifted, they “recognize the diverse needs of older adults” by “strengthening efforts in the neighborhood to provide low-threshold access to personal, telephone or Internet access.” mobilize. based social engagement opportunities for older adults who are historically, persistently, or currently marginalized.

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Ottoni acknowledged that most of the subjects were white, cis women, meaning the research couldn’t be easily translated to other Vancouver communities.

“You would have to do specific research within different neighborhoods, targeting different ethnic backgrounds to get a more complete picture of what was going on,” she said. “The study was really the experience of older people living in downtown towers.”

The gallery’s opening on Wednesday marked the first time Ottoni had personally met many of her research subjects, despite working with them for more than two years during her research.

“It was very moving,” she said.

ngriffiths@postmedia.com
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