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Healthy Aging in Healthy Communities

How Ageism Hurts Seniors’ Health
Revera’s Six Dimensions of Wellness is a holistic approach to health and wellness that includes: physical, social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and community engagement. Over the coming weeks, we will delve into each dimension in closer detail.

Throughout history, elders were seen as community leaders and an important link to the past. Unfortunately, in many of today’s societies the role of the elder has been diminished as the world speeds along. In many ways seniors have been left behind in the world that they helped build.

Ageism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s age. In one sense, it’s viewing older adults as less capable contributors to our communities. This perception can lead to an older adult’s decline. Community Engagement is another aspect of the Six Dimensions of Wellness, and in an ageist society, older adults are denied the opportunity to contribute their unique gifts and skills in meaningful ways.
“Throughout history, elders were seen as community leaders and an important link to the past.”
Yvonne Rekken, 87, made the decision three years ago to move into River Ridge retirement residence in St. Albert, Alberta – just outside of Edmonton. For her the move came as a relief as she was happy “not having to look after so many things for myself.”

“It’s not quite family, but it can be the next best thing,” Art Maskell, another resident at River Ridge, says about making new friends following his move into the retirement residence.

For others, however, the transition to a retirement residence is daunting. Nicole Collyer is the Director of Recreation at River Ridge and says, “as residents move in they feel a sense of loss of identity or independence, so any ties we can give them into the community to make them feel part of it is integral in making them feel their value.”

A popular program at River Ridge is the BK Golden Friends Hour. The residence has teamed up with a grade 5 class at Bertha Kennedy Catholic Community School, just a short two-minute drive from the residence. “Kids are a great catalyst to help break down barriers and help residents feel comfortable to just be themselves,” says Collyer.

Established in 2012, the program allows students and residents to hang out and most importantly have fun. As an ice breaker, something they do is put together a funky photo booth with funny props and costumes. The residents and students will play games and teach each other different things, such as what it was like growing up in the past or the students will teach residents how to use an iPad.

It’s an important hour for the residents as they share moments in their lives with the kids and have the chance to learn from them too. “By associating we can both learn empathy for the other,” says Rekken. “We realize each person is an individual worth knowing.”

Collyer says the program reaffirms for older adults that they have something to give. “I think you get to a certain age and you stop being valued. Ageism is a huge problem in society. One resident told me ‘I might be old but I don’t feel old.’ Seniors aren’t useless and it’s important to keep demonstrating that to the young people of today.”

“It’s a delight to see that the students are actually interested in knowing what you have experienced,” says Maskell, an 87-year-old retired civil aviation inspector.

For Rekken, the opportunities to interact with the children and form relationships help her to find peace. “It makes me feel more at home here and part of this community. It counteracts any sense of loneliness that age may bring.”

To break down the barriers society is putting up for older adults it’s important to continue to bridge the gap between the younger and older generations. As Rekken says, it’s necessary to be able to empathize with each other and humanize the individual instead of associating young and old as single standardized groups. It creates healthier aging experiences and healthier communities.

Our residents are dedicated to building up their local communities and actively champion and participate in the causes important to them by raising funds and awareness proving that Age is More than just a number. Through Revera Giving, we are committed to being a good civic partner and work with local and national groups to create stronger, more inclusive communities.