Drew Nelson ’08 and Kim Jones present at conference on Aging and Communication

Drew Nelson (’08) and Kim Jones (Anthropology) present at conference on Aging and Communication

Dr. Kim Jones (Department of Sociology and Anthropology) and Drew Nelson (’08) presented their research on aging and communication at the 6th Annual Conference of the Association for Aging and Gerontology held at Pennsylvania State University March 16-18. Dr. Jones presented a paper entitled “Speaking Like Them: Pragmatics in Cross-Cultural Aging Research”. Drew presented a paper entitled “Elder-talk: Communication in a Community of Aging”. Sarah Panjian (’08) was scheduled to present, but was unable to attend due to harsh weather conditions (snowstorm). However, her paper “Women, Aging, and Poetry” was distributed to session attendees at the conference.

Drew and Sarah conducted their projects as part of a required course in qualitative methods offered by the Sociology and Anthropology department. They had participated in service-learning research at a local assisted living community as part of the course. Drew received a travel grant from the Undergraduate Research Office to support his participation in the conference.

Abstracts are below, and a photo of Drew’s presentation with Dr. Jones looking on is attached.

Speaking Like Them: Pragmatics in Cross-Cultural Aging Research
Kimberly Jones, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

While learning foreign languages is often considered of great importance to anthropological investigations, dialectic modifications of speech patterns have been emphasized less in the literature on ethnographic fieldwork. During the summer of 2003, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of nineteen ethnically diverse elders who attended a senior center in Queens, NYC. These interviews were conducted after two years of participant observation, during which time I supervised various student projects in this community. The purpose of this study was to deepen the exploration of how clients had come to use the center and their motives for continuing to utilize the services offered. However, in reviewing the tapes and transcripts of these interviews, it became obvious to me that I had modified my personal communication style during these interviews as a means of relating to the study participants. This tangential finding is of interest to the study of pragmatics in qualitative research, especially in inter-generational studies of ethnically diverse communities. In this presentation, communicative styles between researchers and the researched will be explored as a special kind of dialogue. The implications of adapting to the communicative style of participants will be discussed as a means by which investigators gain rapport and trust. In this study, modification of speaking style seemed to be a valuable way to help break down cultural and generational barriers to authentic communication. By gaining awareness of how “speaking like them” affects the relationship between investigators and elderly research participants, we can further illuminate the strengths of ethnographic approaches to understanding communities of aging.

Elder-talk: Communication in a Community of Aging
Emery (Drew) Nelson (History and Sociology, ’08)
Faculty mentor: Kimberly Jones, Anthropology

Throughout the course of human life communication plays a significant role in learning and interacting with others. However, during the various stages of life, people may communicate in unique ways. Ways of expressing oneself can be effected by various life experiences and the generational and intergenerational norms in a given culture. Over the course of ten weeks I conducted participant observation in a community of aging. After several weeks of familiarizing myself with this environment and the elders residing in an assisted living facility in Central North Carolina, I began to focus my observations on the various communicative styles of several senior residents. Particular emphasis was given to how communication in the facility affects and is affected by the process of aging. Due to physical and cognitive limitations associated with illnesses that accompany the aging process, particularly hearing difficulties and dementia, loss of communicative abilities was notable in this population. However, there was also a great deal of variation between the communicative skills of various participants in this study. These observations, regarding loss of communication, are consistent with previous studies regarding the issue of communication and aging. In order for volunteers, staff members, and family members to successfully interact with members of this population and similar populations, it is important for them to be aware of individual capacities and limitations that elders experience in their ability to communicate.

Women, Aging, and Poetry
Sarah Panjian (English/Sociology, ’08)
Faculty mentor: Kimberly Jones, Anthropology

Literary works are often seen as a means to define a culture or era, a system of values or beliefs. On an individual level, they may be used to record thoughts, memorable life events, or fictional plots. Naturally, not all poems, short stories, and novels are unveiled to the masses, yet, despite a lack of public recognition, these works may serve another purpose – as personal memoirs to their aging authors. Where the institutionalization of the elderly lends itself to the loss of personal identity, an individual’s literary works can be used to catalog one’s greatest achievements and prompt the recollection of life’s most memorable moments. Loss of memory erases many of the influential people and events of an elderly individual’s life; lack of mobility and vision deficits further restrain residents from accessing journals, notecards, and writings from their past. Various interviews and casual encounters in an assisted-living facility led to an in-depth study of one resident in particular, whose poetry narrates her life where her memory cannot. The verses found in a once misplaced notebook have reunited this sometimes-forgetful 94 year-old women with the faces and events of her past. The reflections and background information delved from reading her poetry aloud will ultimately be part of a video ethnography, which, along with this paper, will examine the use of personal literature as a conduit to one’s past, keeping in mind the changing role of women throughout the subject’s lifetime. Helping the elderly to organize and archive their works is an often overlooked aspect of service-learning; this paper will discuss the methods most effective in preserving memory through the literary works of the elderly.