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.
Posted by suzanne on Jul 15, 2014
‘Young and older together.’ This was a mantra of Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Grey Panthers in the United States. Maggie was ahead of her time in recognizing aging as an issue and redefining what aging means in society.
As human beings, we need strong bonds and connections to individuals of all ages. It is up to all of us to cultivate these interactions and relationships so we can reap the many rewards. Individuals and communities benefit from intergenerational experiences.
Recently, I was quoted in the Grey Bruce Kids magazine about intergenerational interaction. Kristen B. Dyer, the author, encourages children and their parents to seek out or create intergenerational opportunities. Please check out the article “Intergenerational Bridges’ in the June issue.
Catch the joy of intergenerational interaction!
Posted by suzanne on Jun 12, 2014
June is Seniors’ Month. In fact, the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat explains that this year’s theme is ‘Aging Without Boundaries’ as we mark 30 years of celebrating seniors. It is amazing to see, highlight and recognize the contributions that older adults make to their communities everyday. It is important to acknowledge their achievements and to support their work.
However, the image and concept of ‘senior’ no longer fits today’s older adults. Older adults might not want to be associated with the term ‘senior’ because they believe it really does not reflect them. Negative images predominate and overshadow any positive potential images. Older adults do not want to be labelled and viewed with the negative connotations associated with the term ‘senior’.
This is an issue that needs attention. To truly celebrate older adults, we need new language and new ways to discuss and honour later life and aging. This is one reason why I am producing a documentary film about healthy aging. With this film, more diverse images and positive role models of later life can be shared.
Moreover, as the population ages, it is about more than having a longer lifespan. It is critical to have a longer ‘healthspan’. It is about finding ways to foster adding more life to the gift of years individuals are blessed with. This is why healthy aging is important.
Posted by suzanne on May 8, 2014
Reading a recent Toronto Star article, I was quite moved by the story about the death of an incredible 21-year old university student named Kristina, who was studying nursing. Kristina donated her organs to help save the lives of five people. One of them, Susan Vieira, a 64-year old retired nurse, received Kristina’s heart. When she found out about Kristina, she decided to go through Kristina’s bucket list, checking off items on her behalf.
To me, this speaks of intergenerational relationships and the natural connection and affinity between young and old. Youth and older adults have so much in common. As Susan and Kristina’s story demonstrates, even in death there is a strong mutual bond. Moreover, we inspire each other. Susan, an adventurous woman, continues living life to the fullest so that Kristina’s vitality, exuberance and zest for life lives on.
Intergenerational relationships refer to social interaction between different generations – connections between individuals of different ages. In the community, the focus is often on relationships where the individuals are not related to each other; hence, beyond the intergenerational connection that occurs in families between grandparents and their grandchildren.
Our society has a tendency towards age-segregation, rather than promoting intergenerational interaction and connection and the strengthening of these bonds. Children go to age-graded schools, adults go to their places of work and older adults have seniors’ centres, seniors’ programs, seniors’ housing and…well you get the picture.
Even within families, intergenerational interaction has decreased due to social changes from employment mobility and shifting family structure. Programs that consciously engage the generations and act to connect them go against the norm of segregation.
In my work, I actively promote intergenerational interaction and have seen the results first hand. I teach a Sociology of Aging class at York University and have consciously cultivated opportunities for intergenerational connection. This has been rewarding for everyone involved.
There are more community programs being developed for the purpose of stimulating intergeneration interaction, such as Cyber Seniors and The Creative Space. In Canada, i2i promotes an intergenerational society. Community is strengthened when the generations come together. There is still much work to be done to help us realize the untapped potential of intergenerational bonds and connection.
Together, we are stronger – we can work towards our goals and reach our vision of a Canadian society for all ages.
Posted by suzanne on Apr 2, 2014
Our lives are most meaningful in the ways we touch the lives of others. This is the great beauty of life and what provides the deepest meaning and fulfillment.
When we are of an age, how will we continue to associate, interact and engage with others? As we age, some of the best moments are when we are in the company of those who are of a different age. Yet, lives are often lived separately; we segregate the generations to different domains, spheres and social structures. When we separate the ages in our society, we make this special interaction more difficult to achieve.
It is difficult to find suitable language to describe those who are older but are also young at heart. They are seniors and elders in comparison to my age. But I don’t perceive them with the connotation that the word ‘old’ describes. When I get to know them as individuals, their age disappears. In fact, when the generations interact and intermingle, we realize we have much in common after all; any differences evaporate through caring, loving and laughing together.
It is wonderful to see the young inspire the old and the old inspire the young. This is what can be achieved through intergenerational interaction.
Posted by suzanne on Mar 21, 2014
This week, I was invited to Peterborough by Hatch to speak to older adults in the community about later life empowerment through self renewal, challenging roles and community innovation during the New Retirement. My presentation was sponsored by CARP. This is some coverage in the local media about my presentation.
It was a fabulous evening: we had a great turnout and people stayed after my presentation for an hour-long Q & A session. We discussed ‘retirement’, volunteering and social enterprise. Hearing members of the audience’s views on this topic was interesting. Not all older adults want to volunteer; some want to do more. Moreover, some want to earn money for their extensive knowledge, skill and expertise. This indicates to me that there is a shift occurring within attitudes and expectations for ‘retirement’.
I engage groups and help them see opportunities – the opportunities of later life. In partnership with Hatch and Peterborough Economic Development Business Advisory Board, I am offering a workshop series for adults who are in the Third Age and are interested in starting a new enterprise – something that generates revenue and gives back to the community. Please contact me (on my contact page) or visit Hatch for further information.
Posted by suzanne on Mar 14, 2014
My scholarly article entitled Redirection was recently published in The Gerontologist. In this paper, I discuss the sociological and psychological process of later life career development as an individual enters a new career stage. To date, this has received little attention in the career development field.
Retirement is changing. There is great knowledge, skill and experience that older adults can transfer into new roles. I predict that organizations and communities will begin to recognize this.
The fact is that more people will reach this life stage as life expectancy continues to increase. More individuals will be looking for the next challenge.
What is your next challenge?
Posted by suzanne on Jan 24, 2014
Older adults are lifelong learners. They like to learn new things and there is a need to celebrate the learning of all age groups. This is especially the true for seniors. The myth that older adults don’t like technology is being challenged; more and more older adults are embracing technology.
Often, older adults jump at the chance to be shown how technology can make a difference in their lives and how they can better use it. I hear anecdotal reports of grandchildren teaching a grandparent how to use a cell phone or iPad. The wonders of technology can be taught intergenerationally, as the program Cyber-Seniors and the great new documentary film of the same name indicate.
Older adults’ openness to technology is evident when statistics on technology use are reported. More than half of seniors are on-line. Those age 65 and older use the Internet and email, with technology users usually active on-line on a daily basis. For example, among those seniors who use the Internet, 70% go on-line daily. This breaks stereotypes many of us hold of older adults!
Seniors like to research government websites, obtain financial information, such as stock quotes or check mortgage rates, or search for health information on-line. And 44% of seniors age 65 to 73 watch videos on-line, with 34% of them visiting social media sites. In addition, a large proportion of seniors – 7 out of 10 – own a cell phone. Check out the PEW report on Older Adults and Internet Use.
Stimulating curiosity and intellectual growth and development are the real joys of learning. Grey hair or not, we are all lifelong learners! Sometimes older adults need support and encouragement to try something new. It is time to debunk negative stereotypes of aging and develop more intergenerational programs. There is great joy and vitality when the generations interact. A special opportunity to view Cyber-Seniors is available through the Peterborough International Film Festival this weekend.
Posted by suzanne on Oct 2, 2013
Many individuals are drawn to the new and the novel, yet they often fear change and new experiences.
People are curious about the world, about the possibilities lying just beyond the sightline. A love of learning drives curiosity and an interest in new things. Learning new things is fun, exciting and enjoyable.
New things capture the imagination and create excitement; however, the double-edged sword is that the new is also anxiety-provoking. The new is uncertain and never guaranteed. It represents the unknown as well as the unfamiliar, so that while we gain energy and enthusiasm for the new and novel, this newness and uncertainty make us anxious. These contradictions are part of what makes us interesting as human beings but also part of what holds us back when new opportunities arise.
The uncertainty that derives from the new and novel can curtail the pursuit of our goals and our learning as well as our growth as individuals. We tend to get stuck in the same familiar ways of routine and habits rather than having the motivation to continue learning something new or taking the steps toward change. We can become overwhelmed by the change and the new direction rather than make a big change.
1) As individuals, we enjoy learning new things and are attracted by the new and novel
2) While new things are exciting, they also make us anxious
3) The new can lead to change, growth and transformation if we make a choice to go with the change
There is a newness and unexpectedness of each day when we change, embrace that change and welcome the beauty of the new day into our life. Change keeps life fresh. Novelty is vital in life. It keeps life interesting. For those who welcome it, there are ample rewards.