KINGSTON — A Queen’s University PhD student won a national award for an ongoing research project looking at the separation of elderly spouses in long-term care facilities.
Madison Robertson, a research fellow and fourth-year PhD student in the health quality programs in the School of Nursing at Queen’s University, was one of five winners in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s 2023 Storytellers Challenge.
Robertson’s research project, Till Death Do Us Part: Spousal Separation in Long-Term Care, was selected from among hundreds of submissions from post-secondary students across Canada.
The research involved 11 couples involved in the long-term care system across the country.
“It started in January where I started to meet with participants, and because of the approach I’m taking, it’s really about developing a relationship with them as well as, in terms of a professional relationship with them, getting to know their experience over time,” she said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“There isn’t a lot of research on spousal separation and what I found was that for the research that had been done in the past, it was primarily speaking to the spouse that still lived in the community,” Robertson added. “So the spouse that lived in long-term care is often not spoken to or not discussed within the research.”
Robertson’s research project also took a participatory approach, providing a space for her subjects to share their own experiences in a long-term care system that has faced increased demand, longer wait times for admission and strains on service levels.
“When most people think of getting older, they worry about losing their spouse to death or illness, not imposed long-term separation, yet this is the live reality for many seniors in Canada,” Robertson said.
“To start with, loneliness and depression are major concerns for long-term care residents, and they are further exasperated when these residents are separated from their spouses.”
Robertson’s project looked at the experiences of a group of seniors and said her research will hopefully help in the development of policy that best supports elderly residents.
“Older adults don’t have a say in staying with their spouse,” Robertson said. “The social and power dynamics that exist within long-term care facilities have often repressed older adults’ voices, leaving residents unable to advocate for themselves or their partners.”
The award winners were announced at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on now at York University.