Learning from older adults: The wholeness of aging in the right place

March 26, 2024

By Maxine Ho, AIRP Vancouver Undergraduate Research Assistant

It is a cloudy day in Metro Vancouver with some snow covering the sidewalks. My research partner and I are comfortably seated in an interview participant’s soft cream couch, as the warm smell of homemade bread fills the air. Today is yet another day of interviewing an older adult who is experiencing housing precarity and living in affordable independent rental housing for the ‘Aging in the Right Place’ research project (Aging in the right place, n.d.). Sally*, the person we are interviewing today, shares her pictures with us for the photovoice component of our interview and reflects on what these pictures mean to her when it comes to aging in the right place (Kaushik et al., 2021).  

 “So it sounds like for aging in the right place, it’s not just the place that you’re in, but also the mental place,” I say to her as I gesture to my head, the printed pictures neatly stacked in front of us on the coffee table.

She nods in agreement as if my words had struck with her, “It’s the mental place. Absolutely… And I think people can learn that… you have to also choose that…you have to be motivated.”

Due to redevelopment plans of her current housing, Sally will be moved to a different building under the same affordable housing organization. When asked how she feels about the move, she suggests that her sense of aging in the right place is not limited to her physical space, but her attitude towards the spaces she is in. She believes that she will find what she needs when she gets to her new housing arrangement. This demonstrates that while there are aspects to affordable housing that prevent older adults from finding housing stability, there are also other individual circumstances such as mindset that contribute to their feeling of aging in the right place.  (Canham, 2022).

To Sally, aging in the right place doesn’t necessarily mean being in the right physical space. Aging in the right place rather, involves a “holistic” take on one’s well-being, including aging in the right emotional and spiritual place. It is to say, “As long as I feel happy with my life, I can feel happy anywhere.” The idea of holistic well-being can be understood as having multiple dimensions of wellness that impact one’s life, which includes occupational, social, intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness (Strout & Howard, 2012). It is to see how these dimensions are interconnected to form the wholeness of well-being when it comes to older adults (Strout & Howard, 2012).

Feeling as though she missed a very important point during the interview, Sally pulled me aside before we left her home. I recall her telling me that she believes her sense of spirituality has played an important role in aging in the right place.

Among the six dimensions of holistic well-being, the dimension of spirituality can oftentimes be overlooked in research and interventions relating to healthy aging. Even so, recent research has shown a strong relationship between spiritual well-being and self-perceived health, especially for older adults (Salman & Lee, 2019). Spiritual well-being is how an individual perceives their life in a meaningful and purposeful way, where they feel self-confidence in dealing with life challenges (Salman & Lee, 2019). Spirituality has been described to help promote positive attitudes, self-enhancing behaviours, and a sense of faith for the individual (Lavretsky, 2010).

The idea of healthy aging has long been examined using biomedical approaches to look at the process of aging in the physical body (Bacsu et al., 2014). While these approaches are informative and help us understand the experience of aging physically, listening to the lived experiences of what it means to age in the right place highlights the importance of cultural and social experiences in aging. Through our conversation with Sally, we understand that the experience of older adults in affordable housing is complex, and it involves multiple aspects that contribute to her feeling of aging in the right place. Being able to give back to society, maintaining a positive mindset, and connecting with those around her all contribute to her sense of aging in the right place. This is why she feels that no matter where she goes, she is aging in the right place.

Well-being, then, involves the effective functioning of the person, and their sense of purpose as well as flourishing (Dooris et al., 2018). Throughout these interviews, our researchers have found multiple instances where spirituality and a sense of purpose play important roles in aging in the right place for older adults in affordable housing:

  • “Yeah, in the aging in the right place, no matter the age you are, you’re always in the right place, with the Lord of creation leading the way…I wanted to show people that, you know, you can do lots of things, and you don't even know that you're being noticed.” (female affordable independent rental housing resident, 63 years)
  • “My spiritual group is my foundation.” (male affordable independent rental housing resident, 71 years)
  • “[Art] keeps me balanced…it takes away depression…travel, sunshine, and art. That’s all I need.” (male affordable independent rental housing resident, 76 years old)

These findings emphasize the way one’s self-perception in their life contributes significantly to healthy aging. In the case of Sally, she finds meaning from being with her friends and family, and volunteering to give back to the community.

Overall, aging in the right place must be considered in the context of multiple aspects of well-being. To be in the right place is multifaceted. Using a more holistic approach to looking at well-being can lead to a deeper understanding for policymakers, programs, and researchers to form more effective interventions to support healthy aging, no matter one’s social status. Finally, I would also suggest that we can learn from this idea of holistic well-being and apply it to our own lives to live meaningful and purposeful lives.


Aging in the right place. (n.d.). Simon Fraser University. Retrieved March 7, 2024, from https://www.sfu.ca/airp/about.html

Bacsu, J., Jeffrey, B., Abonyi, S., Johnson, S., Novik, N., Martz, D., & Oosman, S. (2013). Healthy aging in place: Perceptions of rural older adults. Educational Gerontology, 40(5), 327-337. https://doi.org/10.1080/03601277.2013.802191

Canham, S. L., Weldrick, R., Sussman, T., Walsh, C. A., & Mahmood, A. (2022). Aging in the right place: A conceptual framework of indicators for older persons experiencing homelessness. Gerontologist, XX(XX), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnac023

Dooris, M., Farrier, A., & Froggett, L. (2018). Wellbeing: The challenge of ‘operationalising’ an holistic concept within a reductionist public health programme. Perspectives in Public Health, 138(2), 93-99. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28574301/

Kaushik, V., Walsh, C., Canham, S.L., Mahmood, A., & Sussman, T. (2021). Perceptions of aging in the right place: Photovoice with older adults transitioning from experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 [Paper presentation]. Canadian Association on Gerontology 2021 Annual Scientific Meeting. https://www.sfu.ca/airp/research/ConferencePresentations/perceptions-of-aging-in-the-right-place--photovoice-with-older-a.html

Lavretsky, H. (2010). Spiritual and aging. Aging Health, 6(6), 749-769. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/740654_1?form=fpf

Salman, A., & Lee, Y. (2019). Spiritual practices and effects of spiritual well-being and depression on elders’ self-perceived health. Applied Nursing Research, 48, 68-74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnr.2019.05.018

Strout, K. A., & Howard, E. P. (2012). The six dimensions of wellness and cognition in aging adults. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 30 (3), 195-204. https://doi.org/10.1177/0898010112440883