Healthy Living in the North

Making a difference in the lives of older adults: a UNBC researcher’s passion

Shannon Freeman is pictured.

Shannon Freeman’s grandparents played a large role in her upbringing. Their impact influences her research today.

I’ve always been curious about researchers at post-secondary institutions. What made them want to get into research, and what continues to drive them? Through my role at Northern Health, I’ve been fortunate to meet multiple researchers at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

To finally appease my curiosity, I approached Shannon Freeman, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and avid researcher at UNBC, to learn about her path to becoming a researcher and her current projects.

“My upbringing wasn’t traditional,” says Shannon, who grew up in a small town of less than 1,000 people in Southern Ontario. “I was partially raised by my grandmother, and my grandparents were very influential in my life. We developed a strong bond, which drew me towards a career where I could make a difference in the lives of older adults.”

Shannon considered some professions that help older adults, but they weren’t the right fit. She discovered her love of research while finishing her degree across the Pacific Ocean.

“I went to Japan to complete my master’s education. My research project focused on centenarians [people who have lived to or beyond 100 years of age] and longevity. They have a high number of centenarians, and I was interested in learning what they do differently to live so long. It motivated me to get involved with research as my career.”

Shannon’s current research projects focus on improving the quality of life for older adults through meaningful engagement.

Five residents of Gateway Lodge play cards with a university student.

Residents at Gateway Lodge enjoy a game of cards led by a UNBC student as part of the interAGE project.

“Two projects that I’m currently working on at Gateway Lodge in Prince George are the interAGE intergenerational cohousing project and Grow Your Own horticulture project,” says Shannon. “Everything I do connects with older adults.”

Both of these projects focus on reducing social isolation in the long-term care setting.

The interAGE project involves two UNBC students living in Gateway Lodge’s assisted-living wing for a semester. The students are responsible for developing and delivering activities that are in addition to residents’ regularly scheduled activities.

“The residents really enjoy living and interacting with the students. Activities are well attended and it’s been a positive experience for everyone involved.”

Succulents and other plants grow in a pots in an indoor garden.

The indoor flower garden at Gateway Lodge is a welcoming place for residents and their families to enjoy all year.

The Grow Your Own project focuses on gardening.

“Residents identified gardening as something they wanted to do. Last year was our first year with the project. This year, we’ve added outdoor raised beds that are designed for standing people and those in wheelchairs. A core group of residents lead the project, and plan what to plant. It’s an activity they find meaningful, and are committed to.”

For Shannon, there is no greater success than hearing that you changed someone’s perspective on aging.

“I love what I do, and the older adults and partners that I work with on these research projects continue to inspire me every day. I’m excited to start new projects that build on this work. Research allows me to give back to my community and make a difference in people’s lives.”

True to her word, she is already planning her next project: indoor hydroponic gardening at Gateway Lodge.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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Stanley Cup visits Gateway Lodge

Residents and staff at Gateway Lodge in Prince George spent the morning with Brett Connolly and the Stanley Cup.

Brett Connolly shows Stanley Cup to resident.

Connolly shows the Stanley Cup to Gateway Lodge residents.

Connolly is a forward for the Washington Capitals, who won the Stanley cup this past season. As is tradition, each season every member of the winning team gets one day with cup. Most players take it to their hometowns and celebrate the championship with family, friends, and the community. Since Brett is from PG, played minor hockey here, and spent four seasons with the Prince George Cougars (WHL), it was only fitting that he brought Lord Stanley’s Cup back to where his hockey journey began.

Brett Connolly poses with Gateway Lodge staff.

Connolly (second from the left) poses with Gateway Lodge staff, including his aunt Lynn AuCoin (far right).

Connolly’s mom Dawn Connolly and aunt Lynn AuCoin are NH staff at Gateway Lodge. Both were excited to have Connolly bring the cup and share it with the Gateway residents. Residents took pictures with Connolly and the cup, a few held it and two residents even kissed the cup.

Connolly poses with resident.

Connolly pictured with 100 year old resident Elsie Christenson.

After his time at Gateway Lodge, Connolly headed straight to the CN Centre for the official Prince George Stanley Cup Party.

Brandan Spyker

About Brandan Spyker

Brandan works in internal communications at NH. Born and raised in Prince George, Brandan started out in TV broadcasting as a technical director before making the jump into healthcare. Outside of work he enjoys spending quality time and travelling with his wife and daughter. He’s a techie and loves to learn about new smartphones and computers. He also enjoys watching and playing sports.

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