Reflections on the Virtual Gerontological Society of America Conference

November 27, 2020

By: Sarah Canham, Shelby Elkes, Muhammad Qureshi    

From November 4 to 8, 2020 the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) hosted its inaugural online conference. On the second day of the conference, our research team was pleased to be part of a symposium entitled, Reframing Aging-in-the-Right-Place for Housing Insecure Older Adults. This symposium consisted of the presentation of five individual papers that were then discussed by a leading expert on housing, geography, and long-term needs on older adults, Dr. Stephen Golant.

While it has been widely acknowledged that older adults would prefer to age-in-place, recent reframing of this trend promotes the ideal as aging in the right place. Amidst rising costs of housing and changing personal needs, considerations of the availability of appropriate and accessible housing are becoming increasingly salient for older adults.

Our symposium began with Dr. Mineko Wada examining resilience scholarship, with a focus on older people who are experiencing homelessness, which has been largely neglected. In the next presentation, Mr. Joe Humphries outlined distinct, senior-specific needs and shelter/housing solutions for newly and chronically homeless older adults. Following, Dr. Sarah Canham described promising practices of shelter/housing to support aging-in-the-right-place for older people experiencing homelessness in Montréal, Calgary, and Vancouver identified through an environmental scan. Extending these efforts to an international scale, Dr. Atiya Mahmood reported on findings from a scoping review of supportive shelter/housing options, supports, and interventions. And the final presentation, by Mr. Muhammad Qureshi reported on how community development practices implemented by a not-for-profit affordable housing provider promote older tenants’ food security and social support needs.

Mr. Qureshi reflects on his first virtual GSA conference:

Back in March, when I learned that I would get a chance to be part of a symposium presented at GSA, I was thrilled. For many students in gerontology, just being able to present at GSA is a considerable achievement, one that I was delighted to check-off my list. The event became an even bigger deal for me when I was informed that the mantle of discussant for our symposium would be taken up by Dr. Stephen Golant, a rock-star in the field of gerontology. Many times, I was more happy thinking about meeting Dr. Golant than the conference itself.
Besides the good fortune of meeting Dr. Golant, the four-day online conference was packed with learning and professional development opportunities. Attendees were able to view various symposiums, posters and papers on a plethora of highly relevant gerontological topics. I participated in engaging discussions with colleagues worldwide on the subject of housing and older adults, especially the intersection between housing and issues like social isolation, poverty, homelessness, and affordability. One particular conversation with a colleague from South Korea was especially memorable as it allowed me a glimpse of an older adult’s housing situation outside the North American or European context. Overall, the various exchanges re-ignited my belief in the importance of older adults’ ‘home’ and how intricately it is linked to the contextual factors around it. It made me realize the importance of conferences, like the GSA, in encouraging the necessary knowledge exchange to bring the various contextual factors that influence older adult housing to the forefront. Thus, enabling older adults to not only age in place but age in the ‘right’ place.
And for those who are wondering how my interaction with Dr. Golant went, let’s just say that the five minutes I got with him before our symposium mostly involved me grinning from ear to ear and fumbling to communicate how much I admired him. Something my friends and family will hear about for the next few weeks.

Indeed, our discussant, Dr. Stephen Golant, Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida and important theorist of ‘aging in the right place,’ discussed the implications of the five presented papers for policy and practice for supporting housing insecure older adults while advancing scholarship on aging-in-the-right-place for this marginalized population.

Ms. Shelby Elkes, MA Student and Regional Coordinator for our research team reflects on her experience:

As promoted by the GSA, the 2020 Scientific Meeting Online brought together researchers, educators, scientists, health care professionals, influential thought leaders, and industry experts to address today’s most pressing issues in the field of aging. Engaging presenter discussions focused on cutting-edge gerontological topics, such as geographic inequities, ageism, COVID-19 impacts, community-based research practices, and integrated neighborhood supports were only a few of the hundreds of research topics hosted across the four-day symposium. The Scientific Meeting offered a unique opportunity for attendees to preview pre-recorded research presentations prior to the conference, opening up time during the conference for authors and interested attendees to discuss the research topic. These presenter discussions encouraged authors to elaborate on their research and open the floor to attendees to express their own questions, thoughts, and shared interest on the research topic. Questions and comments addressing research methodologies, shared research ideas, or current work facilitated connection between hosts and attendees, each coming together from their personal space across the world. Our specific presentation provided an updated understanding of how to support older adults’ ability to age-in-the-right-place, regardless of income or physical, mental, or social status. Having the opportunity to discuss the topic with fellow students, researchers and community members worldwide was a surreal and enlightening experience. It was an honor to be part of such a unique collaboration of gerontological research.