Storytellers of Life: Insights Older Adults Can Provide on Empowerment and Their Well-Being

Presented by: Mary Katherine Crouch and Jill Pable

Given the value of stories in revealing hopes, dreams and perceptions, some suggest that narrative inquiry is a valuable technique for gathering data in studies of the elderly. There is an advantage of seniors presenting their views on life: researchers can gain a better grasp of the needs of any individual by accessing his or her personal accounts of the aging experience (Harrigan & Raiser, 1998). Not only do stories provide rich qualitative data, they can provide healing effects for the storyteller. He or she can reconnect to an identity which may have been altered because of current social pressures. This reconnection to the true self can have impact on a positive sense of well-being for the older storyteller (Wilinski & Anbacken, 2013). Kenyon (2003) claims that “people’s life stories are possibly their most intimate possession” (p.32) and that the exchange of these personal stories create a “wisdom environment” that is beneficial to both the young and old.

The storyteller plays one role in the narrative exchange but the story listener is an essential component as well (Kenyon, 2003). People engage in this back and forth process as a personal expression of their identity. These stories shows what is meaningful to both parties in relation to each other but also the perception of their place in the world. In particular, this last quality of stories make this data gathering method an appropriate choice for this study, given the study’s goals of understanding older adults’ perceptions of empowerment through physical environment. 

This poster will discuss the review of literature and initial data findings for a study that explores the built environment’s role in perceived empowerment by skilled nursing residents. Literature suggests that a sense of control, choice, and autonomy are factors that can determine if an older resident is satisfied with their living conditions which, in turn, may facilitate empowerment and overall well-being. This concept is the foundation for the study’s primary research question: What role do empowering elements in the built environment play in supporting quality of life for skilled nursing residents? The Person-Environment (P-E) Fit Theory by Kahana, Lovegreen, Kahana, & Kahana shaped the study’s approach (2003), which evaluates the interaction of personal preferences and environmental characteristics along the following four physical and two social domains:

  • Physical Domains
  • Physical Amenities/Aesthetics
  • Resource Amenities
  • Safety
  • Stimulation/Peacefulness
  • Social Domains
  • Homogeneity/Heterogeneity
  • Interaction/Solitude

As the name suggests, the goal is to have a positive “fit” of the preferences and characteristics that leads to resident satisfaction and psychological well-being (Kahana et al., 2003). 

The research study was comprised of two phases. The first phase involved interviewing skilled nursing residents which allowed them to share stories with the researcher of their lived experience in their long-term care facilities. They were asked about their perceptions of the spaces in the facilities which they determined to be empowering. Based on the responses from the residents regarding the areas they enjoyed the most and/or perceived as empowering, the second phase took the form of observation mapping in which the researcher tracked the movement and activities of the general population of residents in the focus areas. The researcher anticipates that the observations will confirm the interview responses about aspects of the areas in the facility that the residents perceived as beneficial and empowering. 

Data Analysis Outcomes
Preliminary findings from both phases will be shared with conference attendees. However, the data collected will be used to inform design guidelines for skilled nursing facilities that identify and recommend empowering elements in the built environment. The intent is that these guidelines will benefit skilled nursing facility administrators, staff, and other design professionals who seek to empower and improve quality of life for elders.


  • Harrigan, J., Raiser, J., & Raiser, P. (1998). Senior residences. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Kahana, E., Lovegreen, L., Kahana, B. & Kahana, M. (2003). Person, environment, and person-environment fit as influences on residential satisfaction of elders. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 434-453.
  • Kenyon, G. M. (2003). Telling and listening to stories: Creating a wisdom environment for older people. Generations, 27(3), 30-33.
  • Wilinska, M. & Anbacken, E. (2013). In search of the everyday life of older people in Japan: Reflections based on scholarly literature. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology. 28 (4), 435-451.
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