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

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

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

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

Landscapes of Aging, 2014

Niagara Falls. What a perfect location as a symbol of longevity in the beautiful landscape of the Niagara region. From Oct.16-18, 2014 the Canadian Association of Gerontology (CAG) holds its 43rd annual conference – Landscapes of Aging – Critical Issues, Emerging Possibilities.

Suzanne Cook, (apart from being a scout for Planet Longevity), will be a presenter at the conference on the Saturday morning, chairing the session under the banner “Intergenerational Learning within Formal Educational Programs”. Suzanne’s specific piece will focus on the work she has been doing at York University in a one-year course – Sociology of Aging. More from Suzanne on this in our next Planet Longevity blog post.

Take a scan through the CAG conference program and you will be amazed if not overwhelmed by the wide range of niche topics related to aging issues. There is no room to say that you aren’t spoiled for choice; and you don’t have to be a gerontology professional or academic to understand that each of the aspects covered has a real connection to what everyday people are experiencing.

Setting aside keynote speakers, the granular details of the “critical Issues & emerging possibilities” are parcelled out in thematic doses over three days, too many to mention here. Sample of a few that popped out at me:

  • Person centered home care
  • Challenges in long term care
  • Experiences of caregivers
  • Aging and social exclusion
  • Rural aging
  • Changing the culture of dementia care
  • Aging and technology

Gerontology as a field of knowledge and professional practice encompasses so much as any Google search will reveal, a “multidisciplinary” field as the CAG describes itself. Considering the direction society is taking in terms of aging demography, it serves all of us to be well informed about the challenges and possibilities.

So much news on the social aspects of aging is headlined in caution and worry words like risk and cost or being under capacity to serve the old. Easy as it is to define the critical issues, the more enlightening outcome from this conference will hopefully be about what the world of gerontology is doing with the emerging possibilities.

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