Holding on to Literacies: Older Adult Narratives of Literacy and Agency

Suzanne Kesler Rumsey


Based on descriptive narratives of older, homebound adults, this article articulates how holding on to literacies is a vital part of staying engaged as an older adult. It traces a parallel between the idea of aging and literacy development. Employing the concept of heritage literacy—the decision-making processes individuals use regarding whether to adopt, adapt, or alienate various literacies and technologies over time—the article theorizes more extensively the heritage literacy practice of alienation. Alienation from literacies becomes a particularly important part of our understanding of literacy development in light of widespread experiences of aging, such as when physical health, mental health and acuity, social connection, spiritual health, or maintaining independence are challenged because of age. By examining how literacy is employed in agentive and nuanced ways in the lives of homebound adults, the article shows the impact that literacy has on aging and the impact that aging has on understandings of literacy throughout the life course.


older adult literacy; aging; age; alienation; heritage literacy; aging well

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21623%2F1.6.1.5

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