With a growing portion of the population aged 65 years and over, the number of seniors with chronic age-related health conditions is on the rise. These individuals have increased levels of disability and tend to have more rapid declines in health. For many older adults, changes that occur with age are difficult to manage and accept. The onset of chronic age-related health conditions threatens independence and secures eligibility for rehabilitation programs and services. While many older adults acknowledge the potential benefits of these programs and services, others feel stigmatized by them because they make disability and vulnerability conspicuous. Individuals are stigmatized when they possess, or are thought to possess, an attribute that conveys a social identity that is devalued in a particular social context. While the stigma process is frequently cited in health care literature, the prevailing conceptual models of disability creation provide inadequate reference to this phenomenon. As a consequence, health care educators lack necessary guidelines on how stigma should be accounted for in rehabilitation intervention design and implementation; therefore a better understanding of stigmatization is vital.
The ultimate goals of my research program involve eliminating the impact of stereotyping, decreasing the social isolation while increasing the social participation of older adults, and facilitating improved functional independence. Over the coming three years, my research will consist of a series of interconnected qualitative studies using discourse analysis, in-depth interviews, focus groups and visual ethnography. The aim is to better understand the stigma associated with hearing loss, combined hearing and vision loss (as well as other combinations of health conditions) and continence difficulties, and their effects on help-seeking behaviours of older adults. The outputs of this research program will significantly expand understanding of health-related stigmas and will improve support for older adults as well as guidance for practitioners and policy-makers.