Posted by suzanne on Oct 1, 2015
This week, Statistics Canada reported that older adults age 65 and over now outnumber children and youth under 15 years of age. This is a new social trend that is expected to continue and in fact grow in the future. This demographic change will certainly impact society.
There are more older adults in Canada than ever before. They are a diverse group with a variety of needs. Furthermore, as they move through the life course, this demographic group continues to have social impact on social institutions and vice versa.
There is work to be done to address issues related to our aging population and bigger conversations that we need to be having about our aging society. Innovative policy, programs and services as well as more research and education about issues and topics related to aging and older age are required to help Canada and Canadians adjust to the social change we are experiencing.
Aging is an interdisciplinary field. It requires specialized as well as holistic, broad-based knowledge. The new collaborative partnership on aging research and education between York University and Trent University that connects their new aging-focused research centres is an innovative example of what is needed going forward.
The new research centres at York and Trent both have an interdisciplinary focus and a mandate to increase the capacity for research and education on aging and aging issues. With this partnership, York and Trent can effectively capitalize on the strengths, perspectives and expertise of scholars and researchers in the field of aging and accomplish even more innovative work. Furthermore, it will enable these two institutions to bring more resources and various viewpoints and experiences to bear on issues related to aging. The partnership will provide a holistic understanding of aging that can inform policy, programs and services for stronger, healthier communities. This is what will assist Canada to adjust to the shifting demographics and changing social needs.
What a coincidence that we are talking about this population shift and what is needed in time for October 1, the day the federal government has designated as National Seniors’ Day.
Going forward, however, there is great need to be forward thinking, innovative and purposeful to address the social and demographic changes we are experiencing.
A version of this blog was posted on LinkedIn on October 1st, 2015.
Posted by suzanne on Sep 19, 2015
For adults age 50 and over, longevity has combined with a rethinking of work and income options. There is a radical shift taking place with an expansion of our working lives and a re-imagining of retirement, combined with a demographic shift to an aging society.
Delayed retirement is a growing trend. Since the mid-1990′s, there has been an increase in the employment rate of older Canadians. In fact, Statistics Canada data show that from 1997 to 2010, the employment rate of men 55 and over increased from 30.5% to 39.4%1. During the same time, the rate for women grew from 15.8% to 28.6%. In addition, a Canadian survey indicates that a growing number of individuals expect to be working full time at age 662.
It is a pleasure to announce my new study. Funded by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC), this project will examine how Canadians in their 50s, 60s and 70s are seeking out second and third careers as “retirement” is redefined. It will also look at how career professionals can best assist older adults in their career development. The Redirection: Work and Later Life Career Development Project will examine this new phase of later life career that is emerging.
I coined the term “redirection” to refer to the process of finding new pursuits during the second half of life. Redirection, which aims to move beyond traditional notions of retirement, occurs as older adults increasingly seek the rewards of work and stay engaged. It can be a stage of renewal, reinvention and growth.
1Galarneau, Diane and Carrière, Yves. 2011. “Delayed retirement: A new trend?” Perspectives on Labour and Income. Autumn 2011, vol. 23, no. 4. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-XIE.
Posted by suzanne on Jun 30, 2015
In what ways can all generations engage and participate in a conversation and dialogue about greater longevity and a vibrant later life? An excellent start is to foster intergenerational relationships with intent, harness the power of intergenerational bonds and interactions, something that is largely untapped. Research indicates that these as perspectives, experiences and interactions are not commonly engaged in either direction – older to younger or younger to older.
One part of the Age Friendly Communities initiative needs to be to encourage and cultivate non-familial intergenerational interactions. Where are the best places to seek out intergenerational interactions? Here are the five top places and spaces for intergenerational connections to thrive. These are through:
- Volunteer and service work, as individuals from different generations contribute their time to the same cause or issue in the community
- The workplace, where individuals from different generations work, converse and solve problems together
- Associations with neighbours when interacting with people living in the neighbourhood
- The broader community where individuals meet and speak with others as they engage in daily activities and daily interactions, living their lives; and
- Learning and educational institutions, especially as intergenerational learning becomes more prevalent such as in the Sociology of Aging course I taught at York University
If the generations engage more readily in these five top places then the trigger questions for success are – how can dialogue and conversations be encouraged on meaningful issues of mutual concern? How can outward facing messages be stimulated that engage all ages in conversation, so that everyone benefits?
Finally, the top tip for strengthening intergenerational interactions is to encourage good listening skills. In this way, each individual will hear better across generations. Everyone is valued and respected. It is necessary that the generations listen to each other in order to hear each other. This is how intergenerational bonds and connections are fostered. It begins by taking this first critical step. This is an excellent beginning and an excellent way to develop better intergenerational relationships.
A version of this was posted on the Planet Longevity blog.
Posted by suzanne on May 10, 2015
This spring, it is a great pleasure to announce that I am the in-house gerontologist on the new weekly show called Making Our Seniors Matter launched May 4th, 2015 on ListenUp Talk Radio where my interview focused on a holistic approach to healthy aging. While this show will cover a range of topics of broad interest in the daily lives of seniors, it seems perfectly fitting to open with this holistic view.
Over the next thirteen weeks, the Why Our Seniors Matter show will feature many practical matters from finance to fitness, but they all tie in to one or more of the eight aspects of the holistic healthy aging – social, cognitive, physical, psychological, spiritual, purposeful work, financial and environmental.
Through my work as a gerontologist and educator, my focus has been on supporting a new vison of aging – healthy aging that is not only out of concern for the old but also for their families. This makes all this truly an “inter-generational” new vision.
As I mentioned in the Talk Radio interview, there are gaps in how we provide information on aging matters directly to seniors in the community, and there will be a growing demand on family members of all ages to become an integral part of that information food chain as the aging demographic curve rises over the next two decades.
Furthermore, we require new ways of providing information and resources to those who need it. Communities and municipalities as well as businesses serving seniors can do a lot to shape the way information about seniors’ services and resources is presented. Lack of awareness is one issue, but it is equally important that we have timely information provision.
Many older adults have complex needs and the best way to meet them is to enhance information, including knowledge of resources and tools. Provision of better information is a key way to build an age-friendly society.
Coming up in June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario. This is a great reason to enhance information and communication services focused on older adults and their family members.
Posted by suzanne on Apr 9, 2015
Mature individuals have a great deal to offer. Leveraging their experience, abilities and wisdom is critical in our aging society.
In Western society, there is a tendency to overlook mature and experienced workers. They do not receive the respect accorded to them in the past, or in other countries.
Recently, the New York Times published a lovely compendium of experienced masters - individuals who are at the top of their craft. These inspiring people, of mature age, continue to be highly productive older adults who are passionate about the work they do.
Over and above the meaning and purpose work offers for these individuals, their stories convey several key messages. First, their stories highlight their openness to learning and being present in the moment. These are qualities that need to be cultivated. Also evident is the importance of process and the honing of great works over time. Therefore, patience, dedication and self awareness are critical to becoming a master and developing seminal and socially meaningful work. In addition, they are very inspiring. Finally, I wonder if their age matters because it is their talent and their craft that stand out to me.
In any case, masters is a fitting description for them.
LEWIS H. LAPHAM (2014). Older masters at the top of their game, New York Times Magazine.
Posted by suzanne on Dec 9, 2014
What happens when lifelong learners are invited into spaces and places normally reserved for young learners? You get Intergenerational Education. This new and emerging type of education occurs when you mix passion, dynamic innovation and out of the box thinking and bring it all into the classroom. The results and the benefits are phenomenal.
Dr. Chris Alfano, my colleague in Kingston, teaches high school students and older adults in an intergenerational music program. The vibrancy of this classroom is incredible and it has been my pleasure to observe this class on more than one occasion. Chris and his music class received some much deserved attention for the incredible work they all do to bring music into people’s lives through intergenerational education. Great joy is created when they share what they have learned and bring music out into the community.
I teach Sociology of Aging at York University using an intergenerational education model. I have been thrilled to see this new trend catching on. Recently, I visited two intergenerational education class opportunities. This confirmed the rich learning potential for young and old alike.
Last week, I visited the University of Victoria to observe an interdisciplinary, intergenerational class as well as speak with the professors leading this course (The YUFA Teaching and Learning Development Grant that I received from York University facilitated my visit). The UVic students are enrolled in ‘Exploring Aging through Film’. What an inspired idea for an interdisciplinary university course that brings young and old together while strengthening links between research and teaching. This course is the brain child of Dr. Holly Tuokko and her colleagues. The support for this creative course, the vibrant learning environment and the high student interest were striking. It was wonderful to see the development of intergenerational education and how far it has progressed on the West Coast.
My colleague at York, Dr. Gary Turner, also incorporated intergenerational learning into his class for the first time two weeks ago. Again, everyone was pleased with the results and I have every expectation that he will do it again next year.
These classes use Experiential Education to engage students, both young and old. This model has rich potential.
There is a new brand of education emerging in the field and it demands that we pay close attention to it.
Posted by suzanne on Nov 28, 2014
Volunteers have a highly valued role in society. Volunteer efforts are very important from coast, to coast, to coast. This is because they help keep communities, non-profit organizations and charities going.
Volunteering is a great way to stay active and also to contribute and give back to the community. It is socially and mentally stimulating and is good for aging well.
I am always pleased to hear about the ways that older adults volunteer in the community, especially the length of time they have been volunteers and the different volunteer roles they hold.
I recently wrote a short piece about volunteering that appears in the Fall/Winter edition of Revera Living Magazine. Please read it here.
Posted by suzanne on Oct 1, 2014
Older adults need to be celebrated as people: As human beings and as unique and special individuals. It is refreshing to see positive images of older adults because often they are viewed in negative ways: As a drain on society, as consumers, as past some best before date, or even as invisible in society.
Within in society, images and perspectives of older adults, aging and later life matter. These impact people.
The theory of Symbolic Interactionism indicates that our view of older adults and aging develops through interaction with other people. In essence, our sense of self is influenced by how we are viewed by others or put another way, we view ourselves through the eyes of others. It can be argued that this ‘view’ extends to social institutions and structures in society and the way they portray older adults. These portrayals and perspectives contribute to the social discourse surrounding later life and influence how we view others as well as how we view ourselves as we age.
Hence, I was very pleased to read recent copies of Revera Living magazine. This publication portrays and celebrates older adults as the real, vital and interesting people that they are. The magazine recognizes each individual as unique, with something to offer. This sentiment is important every day, but especially on October 1st, International Day of Older Persons.
Posted by suzanne on Sep 30, 2014
Our time as a society is unprecedented in terms of our ability to develop positive opportunities for multiple generations to live, work, play and learn together. We have more forums, research and technology available for exploring these opportunities to make this a “society for all ages”.
One such forum is the upcoming 43rd annual Canadian Association on Gerontology conference Oct.16-18, 2014 in Niagara Falls where the theme is Landscapes of Aging, which is appropriate in that it explores a wide, bountiful horizon of “emerging possibilities”.
At this year’s conference, I am chairing the Saturday morning Divisional Symposium: Intergenerational Learning within Formal Educational Programs: Older Adults and Younger Students. My presentation within this is entitled Intergenerational Learning Partners: Learning through Lived Experience at the Undergraduate Level, focusing on my Sociology of Aging course developed at York University.
In this course last academic year (2013-14), eight older adults were invited into the undergraduate classroom and the students learned empirical and theoretical perspectives on aging and later life through “lived experience”. The majority of the students were in their 20’s and did not inherently have knowledge of this area of study. Both the students and the older adults regularly interacted in this university class, which is an innovative method of linking these generations.
Posted by suzanne on Aug 3, 2014
This August, it is timely to recognize leading-edge American social activist Maggie Kuhn for her work in the field of aging. August 3rd marks the 109th year since her birth. Maggie was a champion of aging and the later years. She founded the Gray Panthers in August 1970.
Maggie’s work is notable not only because she was ahead of her time with her vision. She also broke stereotypes and, at age 65, embarked on the most important work of her life. In fact, rather than accept being pushed into a quiet retirement by her employer and societal pressure, she chose to take action and work for the rights of older people. After being forced into retirement from the Presbyterian Church, Maggie, along with her friends who found themselves in similar circumstances, organized and founded the group that became the Gray Panthers. The organization focused on the issues of older people including pensions and pension rights, health care and age discrimination. Gray Panthers also addressed the larger social issues of the time such as the Vietnam War.
“By the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, the old will outnumber the young.”
Maggie was a charismatic and energetic leader. She advocated for older adults to have a voice and the opportunity to provide input into programs, practice and social policy. She encouraged older adults to stay involved and take action on social issues. In doing so, she started a cultural revolution.
Maggie also believed in the power of intergenerational connection. One of her mantras was ‘Young and old together’. Under her guidance, Gray Pantners came to represent the possibility and power of later life and to stand for social and economic justice and peace for all ages. The organization’s motto is ‘Age and Youth in Action’ very much echoing Maggie’s sentiments. Maggie herself demonstrated how older adults can be active in the world, working for social issues that are important to them.
“Learning and sex until rigor mortis.”
Until her death at age 89, Maggie continued her work as an activist and advocate. She redefined aging and is a role model to all of us – women and men, young and old alike.
“There must be a goal at every stage of life! There must be a goal!”
Maggie Kuhn was a visionary leader. She inspired many people to view aging differently. She left an incredible legacy. Unfortunately, ageism, discrimination and lack of intergenerational connection continue to be issues that require attention in our society. These are barriers to a cultural revolution that would shift our society from a youth-oriented culture to a society for all ages. In our aging society, we need more people like Maggie to help move the cultural revolution forward.