THE VILLAGE COMMUNITY AS A RESOURCE FOR THE AGED -BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF ELVI-PROJECT
 

PROJECT DESCRIPTION “The Village Community as a Resource for the Aged” is a research and development project conducted by the University of Lapland. The project is multidisciplinary, combining the research interests of architecture, cultural anthropology, education, industrial design and social sciences.

ELVI –projects begun in year 1998. At the first stage (‘Aiding the Lives of the Aging’ -project from 1998 to 1999) we concentrated on elderly people’s coping at home. At the second stage (‘Village Community as a Resource for the Aged’-project from 2000 to 2002) we are concerned with village life and ageing, and in the forthcoming third stage (Ageing in Northern Finnish Cities) we are beginning to focus on Northern Finnish cities as places for aging, and third age as a phase of life. 

The central methodological principle of all ELVI-projects has been to produce knowledge of the lives of the aged, and use this knowledge as basis for developing strategies, technologies and products to support living at home in old age. 

RESEARCH QUESTIONS The aim of the research of the present project has been to explore ageing and the lives of the elderly in villages in Finnish Lapland. We have examined the everyday life of the villagers, and ageing as social, cultural and experienced phenomena. We have been interested in how the sparsely populated village communities in rural Lapland support the lives of the aged and how the resources of the village can be developed.  

Our current research questions are:


1.   To what extent does the village community support the lives of the aged?
2.   Which factors are related to the amount and quality of the support received by the aged?
3.      How can the support given to the aged by the village community be developed? 

The ‘practical’ objective of the project has been to contribute to the activities of the village community to support the aged population. This has been achieved by creating arenas of activity for the aged, encouraging the interaction between generations through increased village co-operation, and by taking community and individual technology into use to support independent self-management. 

RESEARCH VILLAGES At the first stage, nine villages were selected to Elvi-project. Five of them are from Rovaniemi rural district, and four from the municipality of Sodankylä. At the second stage two more villages were included. One from the municipality of Kolari in Western Lapland, at the border of Sweden and Finland, and one in the municipality of Enontekiö in a Sami populated area. 

METHODS AND DATA In the project we have used both quantitative and qualitative research methods. We began by collecting quantitative data. All the 283 persons over 65 years of age living in the eleven research villages were asked to participate in the research. 196 of them agreed. Participants were interviewed using structured questionnaire. The questions asked concern issues like stages of life, social relations, village community and environment, everyday life and free time, health, functional capacity, experiences of aging, devices, yard and immediate surroundings, the need and use of services, and financial situation. Also photography was used as a means of gathering data. Homes (especially kitchen, washroom and favourite places and things), yard and the surroundings of the houses were photographed. We have taken roughly 2000 photographs.

In addition to the quantitative data, data for qualitative analysis was collected by interviews and observation. From two research villages were adult persons under 65 years of age included in the research. From 77 persons 38 persons agreed to participate in the research. The themes of the interviews included e.g. living in the village, relationships between younger and older villagers, and conception of aging and elderly. Also 42 children from one of the villages took part in research. Data was collected by role-play –methods (written stories and drawings) and interviews. Also persons over 65 years of age that have moved from the research villages have been interviewed.   

STRATEGIES AND PRODUCTS Based on the information gathered from the research we have build strategies in order to support living at home and in village, and functioning at old age. At the first stage of the project our strategies concerned:

1.      Repairs of housing
2.      Improvement of surroundings
3.      Devices
4.      Clothing and textiles
5.      Services and transportation
6.      Culture, traditions of the village, and hobbies
7.      Social environment
8.      Estimation of functional capacities
9.      Information technology.

Strategies at the second stage of the project concerns:

1.      Strengthening of community
2
.      Activation of third sector
3.      Services and transportation
4.      Information technology
5.      Home at village

Each person taking part in the research was placed in these strategies. Connected to these strategies products were designed taking the needs and wishes of the user as one starting point. 
In all, Elvi-project has produced over 30 products or design models in the fields of textile and clothing, industrial design and services. These are e.g.:

  1. Shower chair
  2. Easy-to-wear clothing set
  3. Easily-put-on blanket cover
  4. Individual waking canes
  5. Light and easy-to-use carpets
  6. Stable boat
  7. Snow pusher, snow shovel, gritter
  8. Lamb wool products (for e.g. to ease pain and to warm)
  9. Collecting of traditional handcraft models (hangings)
  10. Activity days including e.g. story telling, handicrafts and lectures
     

EXAMPLES OF SPECIFIC RESEARCH TOPICS IN ELVI-PROJECT In the project research in social sciences has been conducted about interaction between children and elderly, migration at old age, images of old age and ageing, ageing in sami village, and help among villagers. Studies in the fields of industrial design and textile have dealt with boating and healing properties of lamb wool.

A cultural anthropological research (Johanna Ylikulppi and Miia Latvala) clarifies how the elderly sami people living in a reindeer-breeding village are managing in their everyday life at their homes. The continuation of natural sources of livelihood (fishing, picking up berries and hunting) and social networks (relatives and villagers) has been proved to be the most important supporting functions for the aged. Even if the actual reindeer breeding has been left behind, the reindeer-breeding way of life continues, taking new forms. The natural source of livelihood, particularly fishing, offers the continuum to the earlier way of life for the aged and preserves close relationships to the nature. This human-nature relationship is important, both culturally and economically. In Sami culture the respect toward the aged people is typical feature among the younger villagers. For younger sami villagers helping older villagers is a self-explanatory matter. Younger villagers are worried about the possible disappearance of the sami cultural tradition.

In one of the studies relationships between children and elderly was studied (Anna-Maria Rauhala). It was asked from the children what kind of impressions do they have of older people and what meanings do they give their relationships with them. Also data from people over 65 years of age was used. Children seem to be well aware of the everyday life of the aged. Children’s views of the activities of the elderly are similar to the elder people’s reports of their activities. Children’s impressions of elderly seem to be quite neutral. According to children, dressing style, looks, and life experience, but also physical and mental restrictions separate older people from younger people. Children view elderly more negatively when elderly are considered at group level than when they think about the older people they are acquainted with. Older men are viewed more negatively than women. The relationships with children and elderly consist mainly of grandparent-grandchild –relationships. Over half of the children and elderly see their grandparents or grandchild at least once a week. 75% of elderly and 74% of children meet their grandchildren/grandparent at least once a month. Grandparents on the father’s side are both those whom are met seldom or not at all or the ones that are met daily. The relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are described as companionable). Other types of relationships were participative and distant/’ceremonial’.      

In a qualitative study was asked what meanings ageing have for people aged from 55 to 64 years of age (Tuula-Kaisa Ranua). Getting old is first of all understood as a question of health and capacity of action, and as fears of loosing them and wishes of getting to keep as good health and capability to function as possible. Related to this one fear of getting old is the fear of becoming dependent of others. Aging is also seen as changed looks. Ageing is seen as a positive thing mostly connected to retirement – freedom is looked forward.   

A qualitative study is made about migration in old age (Jonna Oksa). Persons over 70 years of age that have moved from one research village were interviewed. Questions were asked of the reasons for moving, experiences about moving and settling to new environment. Research results show that ageing with problems related to health and functioning are important reasons for moving. But it is also true that even when aged persons are in question, ageing and problems related to it are not self evidently reasons for moving, e.g. problems with neighbours can cause moving. Strong attachment to home, moving against one’s wishes or because of pressure from e.g. children makes moving difficult and does not help in settling to new home (that may not even be thought as home). Successful social relationships, well prepared moving, and finding good qualities in the new neighbourhood (e.g. finding positive similarities with former home, security because of new closeness to e.g. children and services) make moving easy or at least less difficult. Independent living and a sense of home are important parts of happiness.    

In the project one research is focusing on questions of giving and receiving help (Marjo Outila). The purpose of the qualitative study is to examine interaction order (Goffman), social order and subject positions of the villagers in the context of giving and receiving help. Giving and receiving help seems to be a topic of conversation that involves emotions, and questions of morals. Reciprocity in giving and receiving help appears to be an interaction order that is constitutive of subject positions. When considered from the social order point of view, age is a relevant category that matters when different subject positions are constructed in the context of reciprocity. Talk of help and reciprocity includes themes of independence and dependence, a sense of self worth, integrity and burden that are central in constituting subject positions.

One industrial design study deals with aging and boating (Miska Sillanpää). According to research results, some of the aged people had been forced to give up fishing and using boat because of functional limitations brought by illness or age. Giving up from the very important and often lifelong hobby was often very difficult experience for aged. The objective of the industrial design research was to clarify the qualities of the boat designed for aged person using user orientated approach and to produce a concept model of the boat for aged people. Five aged men, who had been working with boats because of profession of hobby, were interviewed. The most important problem with boats was the lack of stability. The research suggests that the boat should have high edges or a handle where to grip when moving inside the boat or when standing up from the seat. Also a new adjusting and seat was developed. 

One textile project focuses on wool material and its nurturing qualities (Marja-Riitta Marttila). Agriculture, caring industry, folklore and co-operation with the users form the starting point of the research. The comprehensive welfare of users is taken in consideration in planning of the tested wool products. The versatile and the natural aspects of the unprocessed wool are utilized in materials.