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 May 21, 2013
In my work, I meet seniors regularly, and recently, on separate occasions, I had the privilege of speaking with a 100-year-old woman, a 95-year-old man and a 74-year-old man.
I like speaking with seniors and elders. Our conversations are refreshing and invigorating. The discussion is engaging and stimulating. It is a great joy to speak to interesting individuals with so much to share.
From these conversations, I am reminded that one key to healthy aging is connection. Whether you are an energetic senior or elder or a more frail one, it is important to find the opportunity for connection.
In fact, this is true for human beings across the life course from cradle to grave. I am quite aware that I gain as much from these conversations as the seniors and elders do themselves.
We are social and life is about connection and relationships. It is important that we remind ourselves of this often during our busy lives.
Give your loved ones a squeeze and smile broadly at everyone you meet today – both young and old.
Posted by suzanne on Apr 22, 2013
In honour of National Volunteer Week (NVW) it is a good time to blog about volunteering, community service and charitable work.
Many people want to give back to the community for what they themselves have received. This is meaningful work that makes a difference in the lives of others. Many boomers, seniors and elders who I talk to describe the satisfaction they receive from their volunteer work. This work is important and they find it fulfilling. By helping others, not only do they find their work fulfilling; it better connects them to community and adds to their quality of life.
The report I co-authored with Paula Speevak-Sladowski entitled Volunteering and Older Adults has recently been released. This report is important to share with organizations and communities that want to better engage older adults in volunteer work and community service. This report can help to inform programs, services and policy as we give greater attention to our aging population and create age friendly communities in Ontario and in the rest of Canada. Not only is volunteering an activity that helps individuals remain engaged in the community; research also indicates that it contributes to better health.
Meaningful and fulfilling roles and activities help us all ‘age well’.
Posted by suzanne on Mar 30, 2013
In 2011, the proportion of seniors in Canada grew to 14.4% and the median age rose to 39.9 years. As Canadian society ages, there is great interest and attention given to aging across various fields and disciplines: health care services, caregiving, housing and aging in place, career and occupation, lifelong learning and education, leisure and recreation, and well-being and healthy living, including lifestyle, diet and exercise. Services, products, supports and technological aids for seniors and aging are being developed, provided and offered.
The field of aging is ever dynamic. There is a lot happening. All of this impacts our attitudes and perspectives and how we view aging. We are reshaping aging on so many fronts. The field is evolving and is entering a new stage as we embrace the New Vision of Aging.
I view the second half of life as a time of growth, enlightenment and transformation. As an educator with a passion for sharing information and knowledge, I am particularly interested in lifelong learning and its influence on healthy aging. Learning is lifelong. Learning is social. Engagement in learning can herald deep personal growth and development during the second half of life. It is rewarding and a great privilege to work with so many individuals who are in this vital stage of life.
Be part of the New Vision of Aging. It is an exciting time to be in the field.
Posted by suzanne on Mar 18, 2013
As a gerontologist entrepreneur and educator, I regularly get asked to speak to community groups and nonprofit organizations. In my work providing education and awareness about the second half of life and presenting on my research, I meet interesting people in the community and have fascinating discussions with them.
I recently spoke to a Rotary Club in Southern Ontario where we talked about the second half of life and retirement. I asked those in the audience to tell me about their vision for retirement.
As I have often noticed when this topic comes up, a majority of individuals in the audience described an engaged and active retirement. Most envisioned a retirement of ‘doing’ – being mentally, physically and socially active.
This is one picture that a man in the audience drew, showing himself as active and engaged. The specific activities and pursuits are not the focus here, but the ‘doing’ and ‘being’ are critical to this individual, and this is an important message. This is but one image of retirement; however, I really like how this individual portrayed being active in this drawing.
What are your thoughts? Over the next months, I will share more drawings and mappings of the ‘new retirement’.
Posted by suzanne on Dec 11, 2012
When we look around, we are surrounded by elders – those actually in our lives who are close to us and those who we encounter.
Growing up, I was often among seniors and elders so that I felt comfortable with them, just sharing and chatting, listening to stories and getting their advice and input. I am so blessed to have them in my life.
This week I have been deeply moved by two elders. I am going to call them both elders because they are in their late 70’s and early 80’s. In addition, they are at a time in life when they influence others by bestowing wisdom, mentoring younger generations and leaving a legacy. They are of an age that deserves the respect of a word like ‘elder’. It conveys a different image than that portrayed by ‘senior’.
The first elder is a family friend who I re-connected with after not having seen him for many years. Recently, I have been visiting with him – having coffee or dinner and chatting on the phone. He is very caring toward everyone and he loves to help others. His name is Bob and I was thrilled when his new book came out. It was wonderful to attend his book launch with my young daughter. Unfortunately, during the last few weeks he has not been well and it is very difficult to see him suffering from ill health. His days consists of a lot of rest with his wife driving him to medical appointments. Through it all, every time I call, he is his bubbly self – this despite the pain, the frustration and the uncertainty. He is always gracious, caring and engaged. It is a wonder to observe how ill health hasn’t curtailed his zest for life, his vitality and his interest in everybody. He is truly amazing. This is part of what it means to be an elder who is aging successfully and gracefully.
The second elder is Leonard Cohen whose show I just saw in Toronto. He joked about aging throughout his performance. On his new album, many of his songs contain lyrics that convey images of aging “…my friends are gone and my hair is grey. I ache in the places where I used to play…” He talks about missing cigarettes, wondering if he’ll reach age 80. He muses that perhaps he will not make it back to Toronto in 2 years to do another show – all this while doing jigs across the stage during a more than three hour show. He seemed on a mission to continue to be vital and vibrant. He amazed us all; however, I was disappointed that he didn’t tell the audience that he gave up smoking for his health – he obviously still craves cigarettes and he isn’t the only one to struggle with this addiction. In using humour and beautiful lyrics to discuss growing older, he connects well with his audience – we are all aging too (even those of us who don’t have the grey hair). All of this tells me that he is an elder as well – someone who is so caring and gracious, he knows all the support staff by name as he thanks them for their assistance; someone who can influence other people with the words he choses; someone granting wisdom and leaving a legacy.
The role of elder is not to be feared or dreaded. If we are blessed with a long, rich life, we will enter this stage too. As we age, we lose those who are dear to us in the generation immediately above us, so that we are the ones who are left to fill the role of elder. Eventually, we will look up and realize that we have become the elder who is asked about having all the answers, the one who is responsible for mentoring, guiding, informing, advising and inspiring the next generation.
What kind of elder are you becoming? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments.
Posted by suzanne on Nov 12, 2012
Long lasting partnerships are very special. When four in ten Canadian marriages end in divorce and most marriages last an average of 14.5 years, even reaching 30 years of marriage is wonderful. Hence, it isn’t everyday that we can celebrate a 50-year wedding anniversary.
We had the pleasure of celebrating this marital milestone with my mother and father in-law. For the family, it was a grand occasion that was remarkable because of the rarity of having 50 years together.
Research has demonstrated the physical and mental health benefits of marriage, including longer life, less depression and greater life satisfaction when compared to single people. The quality of the marriage including commitment and support matter. Every marriage has its ups and downs and only the couples who can see their way through the more difficult times are able to reap the rewards of a long lasting marriage.
Recently, in honour of my in-laws, the entire family spent the weekend together with specially planned family time and events. We had a lot of fun, making more beautiful memories that will last a lifetime. In addition, what was nice was the fact that three generations recognized this marital milestone and everyone was involved, each in their own way, to mark the occasion. My in-laws highly value family. They are amazing people and we are very happy for them. Fifty years is an achievement.
In later life, social relationships take on new meaning. This enables us to better appreciate connecting with others and helps us to deepen special relationships. I am reminded that one of the joys of later life is the ability to have long lived relationships – with a partner, with siblings and friends, with adult children and their partners. Each relationship has different nuances that add joy and magic and make life enjoyable and interesting. In life, it is the relationships that truly matter.
Posted by suzanne on Oct 30, 2012
Stories are how we make and find meaning in the world. Lives are understood through and shaped by stories. We recognize our own stories within the stories of others.
Stories are powerful for both the individuals telling them and for those hearing the story; the personal connection goes both ways. This is evident when you listen to a live reading of a book or hear a really good storyteller recounting a tale. The passion of the storyteller is evident and everyone present is moved and becomes a part of the story.
In our society, some individuals, like journalists, are excellent at finding the story and honing it to convey meaning. Storytelling is so powerful that it is often used to sell products. However, storytelling isn’t just used in the media and in advertising. There is a growing interest in therapeutic medicine and the use of story, with medical narrative becoming more popular as a way of listening to patients and understanding them. This helps medical professionals to absorb and interpret patients’ stories so they can treat the whole person, not just the illness.
Story is also critical within qualitative research. As a researcher, storytelling and narrative are important to me. I like to hear people’s stories and understand their experiences, thoughts and feelings. This phenomenological way of understanding my participants’ experiences and their perspective on issues is very real and vivid for me. People and their lives are beautiful and it is a privilege to be able to listen to people’s incredible stories. In my qualitative research, I try to honour their lives and experiences. I recognize that they have taught me a great deal just by sharing their stories.
Stories have drawbacks within research. They don’t convey the larger context and this can be limiting when trying to understand something. This is why I use a mixed methods approach in my research, combining qualitative and quantitative inquiry.
Nevertheless, I believe that stories will become increasingly important. Stories both engage and connect people. As we deal with new realities and social challenges and embrace the Age of Elderhood, we need to listen more closely to each other’s stories. By valuing and respecting each other, we can work towards common goals. All of this will help us become Age Ready as we create a space for healthy aging.
Posted by suzanne on Oct 15, 2012
The Philips Center for Health and Well-being recently conducted a survey on technology use among those age 65 plus. They polled 501 adults, age 18 to 64, as well as 500 adults age 65 plus and found that we underestimate how tech-savvy older adults are.
- 54% of those 65 plus state they are comfortable using technology
- 27% use technology to support a healthier lifestyle
- 28% use Facebook regularly
- 25% use YouTube regularly
Helping seniors to become more tech-savvy as they age is an important part of healthy aging. It is critical to continue learning and stimulating the brain, and on-line knowledge and information is important in today’s society.
I remember being very proud of my elders who embraced computers and tried out email and Facebook. Now I see more and more seniors using social media regularly.
If you have computer or technical knowledge to share with someone, have you considered educating a senior?
Check out the Philips Center for Health and Well-being.