UNB Research

Meet the chair: Dr. Catherine Bigonnesse, CRC in Healthy Aging

Author: UNB Research

Posted on Jun 2, 2022

Category: Research , Accolades

The Government of Canada recently announced new and renewed Canada Research Chairs, as well as research infrastructure funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation's John R. Evans Leaders Fund.

Among the new chairs is UNB's Dr. Catherine Bigonnesse, a political scientist working to make sure we take the best care possible of aging Canadians. We spoke with her about how she came to work in this field, and what having the chair means for her research:

Who are you?

My name is Dr. Catherine Bigonnesse. I’m an assistant professor of political science at UNB, and the new Canada Research Chair in Healthy Aging.

I completed my bachelor of arts in psychology and master of social work at Université de Sherbrooke in Québec. I completed my PhD in gerontology at Simon Fraser University in 2017. After that, I came back to the East Coast to begin my postdoctoral fellowship at the Université de Moncton’s Research Centre of Aging.

I study environmental gerontology, a subfield of aging research interested in understanding how the environment – built or natural environment, people, organizations – influences the well-being of older adults. My specific expertise is related to aging in place, the meaning of home in later life, innovative housing and community-based services for older adults, and age-friendly communities.

How did you get involved in this field?

I did not know it at the time, but my experience in my first job, working as a cook assistant in an assisted living facility, would set me on my career path. I really enjoyed the daily contact with older adults but unfortunately also witnessed the neglect and mistreatment of some of the residents. That really upset me. I could not understand why an institution that was supposed to care for older adults would let this happen. I spent the last twenty years studying this very question and trying to find solutions.

What will holding this CRC enable?

The Atlantic provinces have the fastest aging population in Canada, but we lack the research infrastructure to monitor and study its impact on our region.

With my research chair term, I hope to provide the public and institutions with the right information and data to support the development of evidence-based healthy aging policies and programs. I’m especially interested particularly interested in areas in need of major reform, like senior housing, community-based support services and home care.

I also hope to involve older adults in the activities of the research chair; their direct input is essential to developing the most relevant and effective solutions. To do that, I’ll be establishing a social innovation lab that will create a collaborative, real-world space for our research.

Why is this work important, to you and to our communities?

I truly believe that as a researcher I have an ethical responsibility to contribute to the betterment of society.

Twenty years have passed since my first encounter with older adults’ neglect and mistreatment; sadly, the pandemic showed us that not much has changed since. There is still so much to do to improve the lives of older adults in our country. My research chair will hopefully set the foundation for meaningful changes in the way we support and care for the oldest members of our society. (And let’s not forget that we all get older. Improving older adults’ lives is improving everyone’s lives.)

It is impossible to develop effective policies and programs if we lack the knowledge to make the right choices. I really hope that the research chair will help policymakers and stakeholders to develop better and more effective solutions to support the needs of older adults and address the challenges associated with the aging population.

More information

Dr. Catherine Bigonnesse (orcid)| Department of Political Science | Faculty of Arts

Research at UNB | Graduate Studies at UNB | Postdoctoral fellowships