As a geriatric consultant at a regional hospital, Laura Poulin didn’t expect to leave her career to pursue a Ph.D. in Canadian Studies, at least not at the time that she did. A brief email exchange with Dr. Mark Skinner, Canada research chair in Rural Aging, Health and Social Care, and executive member of Trent Centre for Aging & Society (TCAS), turned into a broader discussion regarding the experiences of older adults and caregivers as they transition out of hospital care. The conversation inspired her and, today, Laura is pursuing her Ph.D. and researching transitional care for older adults. Her goal? To understand the experiences of older adults, informal caregivers, front-line and administrative staff with patients as they transfer from a hospital to long-term care home or seniors residence.
“Research was a way for me to bring to light a lot of the process and system issues that I experienced every day working with older adults, and that it could provide the justification that was needed to catalyze change,” explains Mrs. Poulin, who quickly joined the Trent Centre for Aging & Society as a graduate associate upon beginning her studies at Trent.
Research has brought her to living rooms and kitchen tables of patients
Her research has her visiting emergency and acute care departments, long-term care homes and even the kitchen tables of patients throughout Haliburton County. Using an approach to qualitative interviewing called the “go-along” method, Mrs. Poulin is able to observe participants as they are experiencing health care transfers while also asking clarifying questions to better understand their perspectives in real time.
A recent research trip took her even further afield – to the Gerontological Society of America’s annual scientific conference in Austin, Texas, where she presented her preliminary findings alongside several other TCAS members. Her paper “Leveraging Critical Rural Gerontology to Improve Rural Gerontological Health,” – co-authored with Drs. Mark Skinner and Neil Hanlon – challenges existing literature in the field to expand beyond a deficit focus that homogenizes older adult health experiences, and to recognize the complexities of negotiating older adult health within multidimensional rural spaces.
“Rural gerontological scholarship has yet to consider the influence of the distinct nature of how older adults experience health and care, or the strengths of rural communities,” notes Mrs. Poulin. “For example, in my Ph.D. research I witnessed how Haliburton Highland Health Services have started to offer community transportation to medical appointments – a service run solely by volunteer drivers. This has improved health for older adults and filled a gap by capitalizing on residents dedicated to community involvement. This is one of the innovative ways that communities are responding to the needs of older adults.
By recognizing the intersectionality of older adult health and the need to study the benefits, along with the challenges, of aging rurally, Mrs. Poulin believes the field can contribute to innovations in the policy and practices of care: exactly what brought her to Trent in the first place.
To learn more about the Trent Centre for Aging & Society and its membership of scholars, students, and community members, visit trentu.ca/aging.