Seniors’ Summer: Did Vibrancy Find You?

Even though the heat of late August for the most part continues, you can hear it, some still say – “Summer is on the wane.” But let’s not get morose. September month is one of the most beautiful of this season. Neither is it time to give up on our Planet Longevity call for celebrating a Senior’s Summer. We opened with our suggested theme “Inter-generational Opportunities: Things that Bond Us” and hopefully that’s what we explored in all our conversations.

As Suzanne Cook said in her June 30th blog post Top Five Spaces and Places for Inter-generational Relationships, we need to “encourage and cultivate non-familial inter-generational interactions.” Traveling through a few small towns and cities in Ontario over the summer, I certainly easily observed evidence that familial interactions were alive and well, but not so obvious was the non-familial. They are there, but you have to dig for them.

Looking forward to 2016, perhaps the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat can generate a more dynamic interest by adopting this inter-generational theme as I suggested in my June 18 post on creating inter-generational narrative. One key way to strengthen this is to, in some way link the conversations to the Age-Friendly community initiative.

What does it take?

Why not reach out to high schools and colleges such as Sheridan College, which has an Elder Research Centre, where seniors could actively approach student groups to develop a forum, or even run a contest for the best ideas to discuss ways we can build “vibrant inter-generational communities”.

Perhaps this is a sponsorship opportunity for any business with a service or product they are targeting to an older demographic segment, where the primary person helping to make the buying decision is actually from a younger age group. In fact, some community Councils on Aging are tagging to the Age-Friendly theme, or are designated within the World Health Organization (WHO) global Age-Friendly World movement.

The Toronto Council on Aging talks to plans for neighborhood projects that include interaction with Business Improvement Areas (BIA’s). These BIA’s in turn could involve the school systems in contests or “inter-generational forums” as suggested above. Neighbourhood networks promoting Age-Friendly initiatives must include younger people.

Seniors – Go Big!

So for next year, if Ontario Seniors groups want to pick up more vibrancy from 2015, begin now to make it a Seniors’ Summer with outward facing messaging that encourages the benefits of an inter-generational exchange of ideas. Go big!

 
Mark Venning

Top Five Spaces & Places for Inter-generational Relationships

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 inter-generational relationships with intent, harness the power of inter-generational 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 inter-generational interactions. Where are the best places to seek out inter-generational interactions?

Here are the five top places and spaces for inter-generational 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 inter-generational 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?

The top tip for strengthening inter-generational interactions is to encourage good listening skills. In this way, each individual will hear better across generations. Everyone is valued and respected. This is an excellent beginning and an excellent way to develop better inter-generational relationships.

It is also a great way to continue our vibrant Seniors’ Summer!

 

Suzanne Cook

Seniors’ Summer: an inter-generational narrative.

In our post May 22nd, we at Planet Longevity promoted a broader view on the celebration of Seniors’ Month in Ontario; our contribution, the theme “Inter-generational Opportunities: Things that Bond Us”. In fact, we said – why not make it a Seniors’ Summer?

The 2015 Ontario Seniors Secretariat Vibrant Seniors, Vibrant Communities theme at first glance suggests that we should all recognize, that if our senior population is vibrantly engaged, then the whole community benefits. This is true. As the Seniors Secretariat web site says: “We recognize the spirit of seniors . . . and encourage all Ontarians to participate in Seniors’ Month.”

Yet if you take a look at the various Ontario community Seniors’ Month event calendars published online; the activities, programs and information sessions on offer tend to speak directly to the core audience – Seniors. Seniors celebrating Seniors is a good thing. But you might be hard pressed to find much in the calendar listings and supporting visuals that suggests that this month invites any inter-generational interest or participation. At least not by immediate inference.

The Toronto Community Housing web site has a basic Seniors’ Month page with a link there to a group called Toronto Intergenerational Partnerships (TIGP) however the Upcoming Events page seems inactive at last check. TorontoCentralhealthline.ca posted a recent article by the folks at Mosaic Home Care which points in one paragraph to the importance . . .

“for all of us, seniors included to think of how we as a community can increase our interaction and our understanding of each other. Institutions, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play.”

This is the right message and maybe by the next time we get around to Seniors’ Month 2016 we’ll find a way to put out more firmly worded, outward facing messaging that encourages the benefits of an inter-generational exchange of ideas. If current younger generations are going to experience an even greater longevity, then the question could be; how do you make a conversation about the experience of a vibrant later life in a vibrant community relevant to them today?

That’s why we need more runway for this celebration – as we suggest a Seniors’ Summer. More time to create an inter-generational narrative.

 

Mark Venning

Age Friendly Community, Inter-generational Connections.

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a Global Age-friendly Cities Guide. Born out of a conversation at the World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Brazil two years earlier, it quickly became an international project with a huge scope. Let me proudly mention here, that there was a unique Canadian contribution early in this endeavour with funding and in-kind support from the Public Health Agency of Canada. You can read the rest of the tribute in the WHO guide.

The WHO “age-friendly” concept describes itself around eight themes and with the subset issues considered what you get is a combination of 70 elements and woven together it is enough to serve as a platform for robust discussion for innovation and change. As a group at Planet Longevity, our intent is to support this discussion across all generations.

Four cities in Canada (Halifax, Portage La Prairie, Sherbrooke and Saanich) took part in the initial 33-city WHO research project and since then a number of Canadian cities have formed community initiatives around this theme. From what I can tell, over the eight years since then, participation has been fragmented, and to some degree the conversation seems rather muted if non-existent in the general population. I think the perception is that “age-friendly” is an older person’s bone to chew on.

Why is this still significant for everyone? It’s no mystery that by 2030 the global population will be at the highest level of its migration to cities. In fact, we are realizing the impact of this right now. The evolution of cities will be every generation’s project – function, form, flow and the fabric of human interaction. Over the next fifteen years, the percentage of persons older than 65 will be significantly higher and thus the need to adapt the urban agenda to a workable inter-generational model for an aging population is a key opportunity.

A new narrative must frame how cities can be better designed, while integrating specific incremental life stage needs of older people alongside the shared needs of all generations – remembering that positive social interaction is a major contributor to the healthier lives of all generations.

Perhaps, could the better phrase be – “age-inclusive” cities?

_______ ♦_______

One element of societal change related to aging demographics in cities is the shifting nature of families and the evolution of other networks and communities. Considering we age in stages throughout a lifetime, (and today in more variable social formations), we might see it as evolutionary that there are life course solutions that more than one generation can envision.

Next month Lorraine Clemes will talk about one group of women as an example, who for the last forty years have “created and lived the benefits of a strong chosen family”.

 
Mark Venning

Inter-generational Bonds

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 inter-generational 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.

Inter-generational relationships refer to social interaction between different generations – 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 inter-generational 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, inter-generational 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 inter-generational interaction and have seen the results first hand. I teach a Sociology of Aging class at York University and have consciously cultivated opportunities for inter-generational connection. This has been rewarding for everyone involved.

There are more community programs being developed for the purpose of stimulating inter-generation interaction, such as Cyber Seniors and The Creative Space. In Canada, i2i promotes an inter-generational 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 inter-generational bonds and connection.

Together, we are stronger – we can work towards our goals and reach our vision of a Canadian society for all ages.

Suzanne Cook