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Carving out a place for "pets" within the age-friendly agenda: A case study exploring the public health implications of companion animal relationships for older adults who are aging-in-place

By Ann Madeline Toohey

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Abstract

Growing numbers of people surpass the age of 65 each year, and a widely adopted response has been to work towards making communities more “age-friendly,” as per the World Health Organization’s age-friendly policy framework. Within this framework, there is no explicit reference to older adults’ relationships with companion animals (“pets”), even as pet-ownership is prevalent among older adults in many countries worldwide. Thus my research aimed to explore, from a socio-ecological perspective, the extent to which growing efforts to promote aging-in-place by adopting an age-friendly policy framework may also be influencing the health-promoting potential of relationships between older adults and their companion animals. To achieve this aim, I conducted an ethnographic multiple case study set in Calgary, Alberta, between November 2014 and October 2016. This approach allowed me to explore these influences at both the national and local population levels. My case study entailed three methodologically distinct, yet conceptually linked, research components: (i) a statistical analysis of associations between social participation and life satisfaction for older pet owners and non-owners participating in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA); (ii) a thematic content analysis of local community-based social support and animal welfare agencies’ experiences of serving older adults with companion animals; and (iii) a dialogical narrative analysis of the housing transition challenges described by lower income older adults who were aging-in-place with a companion animal. In synthesizing the findings of each component, my thesis concludes that companion animal relationships may, in some circumstances, confound efforts to promote age-friendly communities in ways that are equitable. Consideration for companion animals is merited across several domains of age-friendliness. The negative consequences of omitting consideration for older adults’ relationships with companion animals from age-friendly efforts may be unfairly borne by those who are experiencing socio-economic disadvantages and social isolation as they age-in-place. This omission may unintentionally serve to impede the health-promoting benefits of animal companionship later in life. A reversal of this situation could help to contribute to health equity and social justice for the growing numbers of older adults who are aging-in-place, and for their companion animals.

Submitter

Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2018
Pages 367
Publisher University of Calgary
Department Community Health Sciences
Degree Doctor of Philosophy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.11575/PRISM/5416
Language English
University University of Calgary
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Tags
  1. Animal roles
  2. Gerontology
  3. open access
  4. Pet ownership
  5. Pets and companion animals
  6. Public health
  7. Social participation
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  1. open access