Safe places for aging and care?

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Researchers in Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia seek strategies to improve care environments

Researchers at Brandon University (BU), Carleton University, Dalhousie University, University of Manitoba, and St. Francis Xavier University are undertaking a four-year research project to improve care environments for older adults and those who care for them.

The overall goal of this research is to identify how and why features of care environments influence violence in home and residential care settings with the aim of improving violence prevention strategies across long-term care.

The project is being led by Dr. Rachel Herron of BU’s Department of Geography and Environment.

Head and shoulders photo of a woman smiling for the camera in front of a stone building
Dr. Rachel Herron

“We need to understand how policies, practices, and people can make care better for older adults and carers,” said Dr. Herron. “COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on problems across long-term care. It is important that we identify what is working well and implement strategies for everyone’s wellbeing.”

Dr. Herron and the research team, which includes Drs. Katie Aubrecht (Department of Sociology, St. Francis Xavier), Douglas Brownridge (Department of Community Health Science, Manitoba), Laura Funk (Sociology, Manitoba), Christine Kelly (Department of Community Health Science, Manitoba), Dale Spencer (Law and Legal Studies, Carleton), and Lori Weeks (School of Nursing, Dalhousie) will compare practices across Manitoba and Nova Scotia. They are working with regional advisory committees to identify sites of excellence within each jurisdiction.

There are similarities and differences between care for older adults in Manitoba and Nova Scotia that make the comparison between the jurisdictions valuable. Both are facing the challenge of serving large populations from rural areas, with relatively few major urban centres, and both provinces have a mix of publicly funded and for-profit facilities. However, Nova Scotia exclusively contracts private agencies to deliver home care services, whereas Manitoba primarily relies on government workers.

By integrating information from provincial and organizational documents, first-hand experiences, and observations in these care settings, this research will ultimately strengthen existing violence prevention strategies, which sometimes fall short of protecting the safety and long-term well-being of older adults and those who care for them.

“Violence can lead to physical and psychological harm, emotional exhaustion, and burnout for carers,” Dr. Herron said. “Older adults who are labelled as violent, aggressive, or difficult can experience a direct impact on their sense of self, care relationships, and quality of care. Although some research indicates environmental causes of violence, little is known about the specific ways that social, physical and organizational features of care environments produce violent actions across the long-term care continuum.”

This research project is funded by a four-year $260,103 Project Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In addition to producing project reports, recommended strategies, and publications, the project will also provide training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

Anyone interested in the project can contact Dr. Rachel Herron, Principal Investigator, Canada Research Chair in Rural and Remote Mental Health, Associate Professor, Brandon University at 204-727-9771 or


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