SFU’s community engagement initiative partners older adult communities

June 29, 2021
Older adults were recommended to various community programs based on their CAP profile, including an Indigenous garden workshop with Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House. Photo credit: Ancel Zhu.

Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre Fellow, Daniel Gan was recently awarded funding from SFU’s Community Engagement Initiative (CEI)—a fund that awards staff and faculty who lead projects that have community impact through cultivating mutually beneficial and respectful partnerships. Daniel’s project “Brain Health in Community” aims to prevent cognitive decline in older adult communities by creating programming specifically tailored to the aging population.

We connected with Daniel Gan to learn more about his research interests, the project and how SFU’s CEI funding will help.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a settler, Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH) Fellow, with an interest in mental health implementation science. I trained and practiced as an urban designer prior to my doctoral studies on neighborhood atmosphere and the mental wellbeing of older adults.

My research as BC Real Estate Foundation Fellow involves several streams of work which contribute to better eudaimonic wellbeing among older adults to support healthy aging in community. Eudaimonia is a conceptualization of mental wellbeing that prioritizes self-development as much as positive emotions. It is important to remember that self-development is an ongoing process, even in old age, and it affects one’s everyday relationships, including a sense of loneliness or at-homeness.

Tell us about your project tiled “Brain Health in Community” and how SFU’s Community Engagement Initiative funding will help.

The material and ecological dimensions of these dynamics are somethings that keep me up. As more older adults age in community, some may be underserved and more prone to cognitive decline. The project engages older adults through community organizations to evaluate a place-based model to prevent cognitive decline in community.

The CAP (Cohesion, At-homeness, Playfulness) Model recognizes the importance of “personhood-in-community” and aims to promote flourishing in community by drawing on relevant theories from community psychology, environmental gerontology, and occupational therapy. SFU’s Community Engagement Imitative (CEI) funding allows us to compensate older adults for their time as we co-create pilot programming that are tailored to their communities.

What makes you most passionate about this project?

There are many things to love in this win-win project. First, we build on the good but occasionally unrecognized work of community organizations to create new ties and opportunities for knowledge mobilization. Second, community engagements with the CAP Model will suggest practical ways to preserve cognitive health, both as individuals and as communities, and we might be able to test a pilot programming in the community. That feedback is priceless. Finally, the intervention framework that we co-develop may also be applicable in other communities—it’s potentially scalable!

What do you hope becomes of this project?

We hope to streamline the "burden" of research engagement based on community needs and increase the direct "benefits" of research participation while providing quality programming. Hopefully, most participants find the workshops and co-created programming useful, and we find indications of improved social and cognitive health among participants, as compared to non-participants.

Personally, I'll be very glad if the community organizations involved feel a sense of ownership over the project! The best ideas just click. Alongside this and other projects, we are also looking set up a BC Community Health and Aging database for targeted deployment of interventions, research, and education.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am indebted to the local communities and my supervisors for this wonderful opportunity to live, work, learn, play and collaborate in. Thank you, Professor Andrew Wister for the latitude to explore, colleagues at SFU GRC and PDA for your encouragement, and the many collaborators and funders without whom this project would not have occurred. We need more community-engaged, rigorous research to shorten the average 17 years for research to reach practice. 40% of dementia risks are preventable (Livingston et al., 2020).

PS: Do check out an award-winning interactive quiz here and share it with older adults and/or organizations in your community if relevant!

Learn more about the community programs offered by Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House.