Theory and Practice of Digital Storytelling for Older Adults

Published: Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jessica Pace was awarded a Gilbrea Travel Award to facilitate her travel to CAG 2016. While at the conference, she attended the workshop: Theory and Practice of Digital Storytelling for Older Adults. Learn more about how this workshop relates to her research.

Written by: Jessica Pace

The use of visual and arts-based methodologies is on the rise in social research, a trend which was apparent at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association on Gerontology. At the workshop: Theory and Practice of Digital Storytelling for Older Adults, David Kaufman, Michelle Vanchu-Orosco, and Simone Hausknecht from Simon Fraser University demonstrated the process of developing digital stories with older adults by combining elements including text, images, sound effects, music, and video with narratives. The team from Simon Fraser presented several digital stories which were created by older adults in their 9-week workshop and described important aspects of the digital storytelling approach as a tool to increase communication and social connectedness among participants. The workshop leaders emphasized potential benefits of the digital storytelling process related to reducing loneliness, depression, and cognitive decline. The process of creating and sharing stories has been well-received by participants in their workshops, who report that creating the stories allows them to reclaim their identities and build new relationships with their peers. 

The content of this workshop ties into my post-doctoral research which utilizes Photovoice to document and understand experiences of aging, health, and dementia among southern Labrador Inuit. I have become increasingly interested in the potential strengths of participatory, arts-based methods, such as Photovoice, as a technique for visualizing experiences of aging and a tool to prompt storytelling. This workshop highlighted additional benefits to the process of an arts-based method (digital storytelling) and the potential social and cognitive benefits for older adult participants who are involved in this type of research. I engage in community-based, participatory research with Indigenous older adults which puts significant value on developing research processes that meaningfully engage participants and have positive outcomes for the communities I works with, while simultaneously providing rich research data. The digital storytelling technique described by Kaufman, Vanchu-Orosco and Hausknecht has intriguing possibilities for this type of work, and it is promising that the idea of ‘research as process’ seems to be gaining traction as a research approach in gerontology.