Picturing the supportive shelter needs of older adults experiencing elder abuse

January 13, 2023

Hoselton, J., Dukart, A., & Walsh, C.A. (2023, January). Picturing the supportive shelter needs of older adults experiencing elder abuse [paper presentation]. Society for Social Work and Research, Phoenix, USA.    


Background and Purpose: 

With an aging population, abuse against older adults is increasing across North America. Elder abuse involves emotional, physical, sexual, or financial abuse as well as neglect and violation of an individual’s rights. Abuse occurs most often within home environments, perpetrated by those in a trusting relationship with the elder. Perpetrators are most commonly family members or care providers. Safe and inclusive short-term shelter for older adults seeking to escape abuse in their home environments is a key community support intervention. Accordingly, this research explores the socio-spatial needs of older adults residing in a supportive shelter for individuals who have experienced elder abuse.   


Eight residents aged 55+ living in a supportive shelter that provides housing and support for individuals fleeing elder abuse in Calgary, Canada, participated in this photo-voice research project. Participants engaged in a series of three one-on-one semi-structured interviews as part of the Aging in the Right Place (AIRP) project. The first two interviews explored the participant’s experiences of wellness, homelessness, independence, social inclusion, and physical environment in relation to their current supportive shelter environment. For the third interview, participants were asked to take photos of moments in their life over the course of a week that reflected the theme of AIRP. Participants then shared what the photos meant to them and how they related to “AIRP”. The interviews and photos were subsequently analyzed using a three-step arts-informed data analysis procedure: (1) thematic analysis of each participant’s transcript; (2) thematic analysis across the participants’ transcripts; and (3) creating visual art to generate a deeper understanding of both the textual and visual data.   


Through this process participants revealed key socio-spatial aspects of what AIRP means for older adults living in a supportive shelter after experiencing elder abuse. Specifically, the participants highlighted the interplay of three key elements: (1) autonomy and safety, (2) community and connection that foster a sense of belonging, (3)inclusively designed age-specific physical environments that foster a sense of place.   

Conclusions and Implications: 

Despite the prevalence of elder abuse, supportive shelters for older adults experiencing elder abuse are scarce. The findings of this Canadian study illuminate the need for these forms of supportive shelters, as well as the socio-spatial qualities required to support older adults recovering from elder abuse. This research generates guidelines for future inter-sectoral funding, policies, and support practices necessary to support older adults seeking to exit abusive home environments, centering the pictures, voices, and expertise of older adults.