Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot!

Part Two

Promoting Age-Friendly awareness in communities in Canada came closer to home these last few months, with special significance to Planet Longevity; as one of our panelists, Suzanne Cook, is now a participant in two of the recent 56 community grant projects awarded in the Ontario the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program, under the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat Action Plan for Seniors.


Suzanne will serve in an academic research advisory role in both cases – Cobourg and Peterborough; as these communities conduct needs assessments with an eye to develop an action plan for age-friendly programs, or build on existing age-friendly initiatives. Along with her passion for forward thinking on aging issues, Suzanne is a Gerontologist who also brings to the table, her expertise as a Ph.D. in Adult Education and Community Development.

With particular emphasis on the issue of affordable housing, the Cobourg based project title is “Northumberland County’s Plan for Positive Aging”. What is a common thread in so many age-friendly initiatives such as this one, is the collaborative nature of community partnerships, including individual citizens, businesses and not-for-profits; Habitat for Humanity in the Northumberland project.

Inter-generational community engagement

Suzanne Cook has great insights on positive aging and inter-generational learning as evidenced by her work at York University teaching a Sociology of Aging course, where she engaged students with older adults. In my conversation with her about these community projects, we discussed how important it is in this needs assessment process, to reach out to a broad range of people for community engagement at an inter-generational level. How and to what extent this happens in any of the 56 Ontario projects remains to be seen.

At some point, let us hope that the messaging about age-friendly, which was designed to be inclusive, doesn’t end up becoming a dialogue in a seniors-centric bubble. Here’s an idea! Let’s take the age-friendly discussion to high schools as a class project, asking teens who have grandparents how they would improve the environment for an age-friendly community. The top three classes with the best ideas gets to present to an Age-Friendly Council at a pizza party.

No question we need to consult with older citizens, who on many levels of limited access and mobility, are already experiencing first-hand the need for a community that works better for them and meets their needs. The reboot in this second decade of the global Age-Friendly movement is about the way we message the positive relevancy of it, for the generations who are fast becoming our elder caregivers and future beneficiaries of the choices we make today.
Mark Venning

Planet Longevity: Celebrating 1st Anniversary!

Actually in a way, it was in September 2012 that the eight of us came together to form what became Planet Longevity and our web site went up with our first bi-weekly blog post Feb.2 2014. Heading into our second year, as a thought leadership panel, we will focus on specific aspects under the theme:

“Age Friendly Community, Inter-generational Connections.”

As an example of one of these aspects, our Planet Longevity panelist Suzanne Cook teaches a Sociology of Aging course developed at York University, where Inter-generational Learning is experienced; eight older adults joining students in their 20’s, which is an innovative method of linking these generations. Suzanne also presented on this topic at the Canadian Association on Gerontology conference in October last year.

So much more underscores this theme of “age friendly” when it comes to things like designing community neighbourhoods, understanding the shared investment in the delivery of appropriate home/health care and not to forget, how financial literacy crosses the life course – not just retirement nest egg planning.

In addition, we will continue to track Canadian and international initiatives to share perspectives on how various parts of the world are forward thinking on aging issues. It’s a global demographic shift of considerable measure in some regions more than others, and the way each community positively reshapes the longevity narrative for future generations will perhaps be judged useful only if influenced by a more inter-generational conversation.

Thanks to Suzanne Cook, Mary Ellen Tomlinson, Sandra Downey, Lorraine Clemes, Marie Howes, Jill Jukes and Gerald Bramm for contributing to the ongoing idea generation, research, marketing and blogging for the group. Happy Anniversary to us!


Mark Venning

Longevity & Community Care – 2

Age awareness has meaning to everyone at every life-stage, so by leading a charge advocating for community home care for older adults the question is; how are we serving our community if we don’t bring a broader range of insights to the issue? After reading Carol Goar’s Dec.9 Toronto Star article “Senior citizens are mobilizing against ageism”, it occurred to me that we need doable solutions that everyone can share in.

In my work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto over the years, I’ve always been drawn to their ‘strength based’ approach to mentoring.  Simply put, volunteer mentors are trained to allow the child to be who they are without ‘fixing’ them or trying to make them ‘better’.  It’s about accepting them ‘as is’ and building their self-confidence. This in turn allows them to be equipped with a toolbox of life skills that (as studies confirm), serve them as they mature.

Likewise, the conversation on confronting ageism raised by organizations like Carewatch needs to be strength based. What are the skills that all segments of the population (from Gen X, to Millennials, to Boomers) bring to the table, and how can we take each groups strengths to assist those who need help. What if we made care of seniors who wish to remain in their home a community issue, not just a family or government issue?

Let’s look at ageism through a different lens by examining an inter-generational approach which would allow learning and support at all ages. If we looked at community home care as a way to build a foundation for a caring community – we would all be better together. And it’s not just about health care delivery. There are other basic living and social needs to be served with more of what we might call an “age share model”.

For example, how about having a high school student earning community hours by teaching a housebound senior computer applications that could open a new world to them? Cyber-Seniors is an example.

What if a local apartment/condo dweller who loved to garden was matched with an older homeowner who was unable to tend to their garden, and took on the task of planting and tending a vegetable or flower garden in their yard? Tyze is an example of one of those doable solutions; an inter-generational social network.

So literally – let’s look in our own backyards to find other workable options for advocating quality community care.


Sandra Downey

Inter-generational Learning, A Further Bond Explored.

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. The theme title is Landscapes of Aging, which is appropriate in that it explores a wide, bountiful horizon of “emerging possibilities”.

As shared in my April 29 post, I see strengthening inter-generational bonds as one of those unique possibilities on that landscape that we dare not miss, like the rare passing of a comet. What we can learn from each other in that passing is a rich experience for everyone.

At this year’s conference, I am chairing the Saturday morning Divisional Symposium: Inter-generational Learning within Formal Educational Programs: Older Adults and Younger Students. My presentation within this is tilted Inter-generational Learning Partners: Learning through Lived Experience at the Undergraduate Level, focusing on my Sociology of Aging course developed at York University.

In this course (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.

My paper shares the experience of inter-generational learning through comments and reflections gathered throughout the academic year. A phase two expectation is to conduct a more formal rigorous research study. What makes this even more interesting is that there are many layers to consider in the perspectives of each generation, from cultural attitudes and norms, to social class and income levels.

Ultimately, through this experience and through any ongoing research, my hope is that those who participate in this kind of interaction will have challenged the negative stereotyping of each generation and achieved more awareness of the effects of ageism in daily life.

Suzanne Cook