Community Connectedness and Long-Term Care in Late Life: A Narrative Analysis of Successful Aging in a Small Town
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This dissertation is a narrative inquiry of the ways in which cultural values, norms, and expectations shape the aging experience of elderly adults living independently in Kasson, a small rural town in southeastern Minnesota, and within Prairie Meadows, Kasson's residential assisted living facility. Despite significant evidence of the reciprocal relationship between community connectedness, successful aging, and healthy communities, we know relatively little about the ways in which contextual meanings of old age influence long-term care and perceptions of well-being in late life. I therefore utilized a variety of interpretive methods, including participant observation, textual analysis, in-depth interviews, and photovoice, to complement and enlarge existing research. Ultimately, I engaged crystallization methodology to co-construct with my participants a multivocal, multigenre text of layered accounts, photographs, stories, and personal reflections. My research design and presentation highlight the inherent possibilities of participatory methods, aesthetic ways of knowing, and asset-based community development for influencing policy and practice at individual, community, and societal levels with typically disenfranchised populations in future communication scholarship. My narrative analysis uncovered three overarching narratives - the "small town" narrative, the "aging in place" narrative, and the "old age" narrative - that guide communicative practices within and between Kasson and Prairie Meadows. Overall, elderly adults in these communities negotiate community connectedness in late life by drawing from or re-storying each of the three narratives. First, they co-construct personal and relational identities through social interactions and shared understandings (e.g., civic engagement, church membership, neighborliness, collective history) of what it means to live in a small town. Second, they face uncertainty (e.g., health and dependency issues) by turning to the past to make sense of the present and future. Third, they embrace old age through membership in age-specific contexts (e.g., Red Hats, senior center, Prairie Meadows) while resisting it in others (e.g., tensions between independence, isolation, and communal life). In total, their stories illuminate the ways in which personal meanings and cultural ideologies support and constrain interactions and decisions in late life as individuals strive for long-term living and a meaningful, supportive place in which to grow old.