Aging & A Case for Personal Advocacy – 1

Seniors’ Month in Ontario is at its mid-way point in June and we are encouraged this year to celebrate Seniors Making a Difference. Sadly, it only takes one or two pieces of news, like rocks thrown at a window, to shatter the glass and make us turn our heads. These are familiar hard rock crimes – elder fraud and elder abuse. One such in the news this week came from British Columbia, where a man who was a caregiver to a 91 year-old woman, stands accused of having stolen $270, 000 from her bank account.

However, I choose not at this occasion to write a dissertation on the subject. There are enough resources and news feeds that can enlighten us all as to these crimes, and that is what they are – crimes. I personally had to step in some years ago as a Power of Attorney for a woman in her mid-80’s, who had been ripped off through a telephone fraud scheme, and as I was helping her through that experience (with police involved), I reflected constantly about what a responsibility it was to be put into a position of trust.

With this in mind, I want to make the case here about how important it is, early on as you age, to adopt an alert, responsible mind-set to take on the role of personal advocacy, for yourself as well as others. This also means setting up an advocacy plan should you not at some point, for whatever reason, be able to speak for yourself. Depending on the dynamics of your relationships, family and friends, it may not always be the usual cast and crew that end up down the road being part of your sustainable plan.

Personal advocacy as a team approach

Frequent reassessment of who is in your trusted advocacy network is as important as revisiting the content of your will, your named executor and powers of attorney. It’s also a good idea to assess your relationship with your financial planner. My colleagues Mary Ellen Tomlinson and Marie Howes will have more to say about this. But I’ve seen enough in several circumstances to know that the people you might have initially asked to be part of your advocacy team, formally or informally, at some point either end up being not who they appeared to be, change their minds about their commitment , move away, or die.

There are so many unbelievable twisted story plot lines in elder abuse and thus the vulnerability of an elder person is at risk whether under the roof of the family home, or in the one room chambers of a long-term care facility. If you are the advocate for someone else, elder or otherwise, it is a monumental responsibility.

With respect for privacy information and confidentiality in mind, your consistent visibility, research, inquiry and transparency by sharing information with others about what you are doing in your role are, in my mind at least, the very essence of the personal advocacy role.

We do have all sorts of public educational resources available  in Ontario, such as  the Elder Abuse Ontario Safety Line, yet I wonder, what would it take to create a core curriculum in schools for Gerontology & Personal Advocacy for Elders, much the same way we have with sex education and other social issues?


Mark Venning

Seniors? Captures a wider continuum of age.

A month away until Ontario’s 32nd annual Seniors’ Month and the 2016 theme is “Seniors Making a Difference”. Consider the fact if you will, that the word “Seniors” captures a very wide continuum of age. In some cases, depending on to whom the marketing is being directed, a so-called senior could be as early as age 55, extending to 105 or beyond. That’s a potential of fifty years of making a difference.

Seniors Month Web Eng






With that in mind, it makes the concept of extended lifetimes harder to decide – when does someone suddenly become a Senior?  No disrespect, but does the word senior perpetuate a stereotype or draw too rigid a definition of a segment of age in a society? Someone 55 may not identify with that word unless maybe you’re giving them a retail consumer discount. Is there a better word for an older person?

You don’t hear anyone calling Gen Y – “Juniors”. Well there is the organization Junior Achievement; let’s give you that. But even their branding is now JA Canada and the word junior has slid from the slide show.

When you think of it, when an organization like the National Institute on Ageing, (referenced in our last blog post), promotes a more up to date message, with the title for their upcoming conference being – “Rethink Ageing” – is it not time to consider a fresher approach to marketing a month dedicated to celebrating the contributions of older citizens?

Of course, the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat only tosses out a theme and offers a forum for local communities to host their own events with their own way of celebrating the month. Judging by the postings listed so far, with the 2016 province wide events starting at the end of May actually, the standard offerings range from free Seniors’ BBQ’s and Strawberry Socials, to Information sessions on community services and Seniors’ achievement awards.

Seniors and their Juniors (and often together), are making a difference all year long in their communities, some quietly, without expectation of a fanfare. In 2013, the Ontario government published its own Age-friendly Community Guide. Two of the key elements in the guide are social participation & respect and social inclusion. As we suggested last year, within these two elements, lie the benefits of having better inter-generational connections that are integral to the success of an age-friendly community.

Perhaps with a little more thought, some communities will be encouraged to look for a new line of sight for redefining Seniors, recognizing that no one can deny any one of any age, that “making a difference” is an ageless opportunity.


Mark Venning

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. 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

Why not celebrate a “Seniors’ Summer”?

June 2015 is the 31st annual Seniors’ Month in Ontario with the theme Vibrant Seniors, Vibrant Communities. A large part of what makes a vibrant community is the inter-generational aspect.

Planet Longevity submits our theme “Inter-generational Opportunities: Things that Bond Us”, by way of proposing to Seniors’ organizations, that they develop more outward messaging to attract younger generations to join a conversation on issues of mutual concern. So with our view to help celebrate in a broader way – why not make it Seniors’ Summer?

Issues such as affordable living, accessible community design and social inclusion are of common concern to people regardless of age and stage of life. Conversations need to be framed as such, to positively create an inter-generational narrative in an age where wider economic disparities layer in as one of the multiple concerns of an aging population.

Canada was a major contributor to the World Health Organization (WHO) Age-friendly Cities Guide published in 2007. In 2013, the Ontario government published its own Age-friendly Community Guide. Two of the key elements in the WHO guide are social participation & respect and social inclusion. Within these two elements, lie the benefits of having better inter-generational connections and these are integral to the success of age-friendly communities.

To a large extent, Seniors bring insights from varied careers and have lived through several economic cycles over many decades, and together with those not so senior they are making their way into the same challenging future. Let’s find ways to take advantage of inter-generational connections to help build and strengthen our communities.

Summer is also the perfect time where all generations have more time to be together and, in a less pressured way, can open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics, such as powers of attorney, care directives, wills and estate planning.

Finally, in reference to the fun side of summer, the season every one of any age looks forward to in Ontario; this Seniors’ Summer is an opportunity to encourage more inter-generational participation in one of the eight WHO age-friendly aspects – promoting neighbourhood projects to build and beautify outdoor spaces. Happy Seniors’ Summer!


The Planet Longevity Team