Exploring How Social Connectedness Supports Aging Well

Dec 07th, 2016 related to Aging Well

BC Healthy Communities (BCHC) is bringing older adults together in a series of workshops to explore what communities can provide for them and what they need to do to prepare for a healthy, social and happy future.  

We know that British Columbia’s population is changing. Statistics show that in twenty years 25% percent of the population of the province will be over 65 years old. Within that aging population many people strongly prefer to stay in their home as long as possible. Aging in place can provide freedom and satisfaction but is also a brave choice when someone has reduced mobility or chronic health conditions.  

We know that British Columbia’s population is changing. Statistics show that in twenty years 25% percent of the population of the province will be over 65 years old.

Aging in place can also be isolating. Seniors social isolation is a major concern for caregivers and health care providers. Studies link large supportive social networks to improved health outcomes in later life; whereas having a small unsupportive network increases one’s risk for poor physical and mental health. Yet the majority of Canadians share a common desire for independence and may live alone as they grow older; at a time of increased dependency on others.

What do individuals need to know about planning their own healthy aging journey?  How are our communities evolving to help? 

To explore these questions BC Healthy Communities (BCHC) is bringing people together in a series of ‘Planning for Aging Well’ workshops. The prototype workshops introduce services and resources available to seniors at the local and provincial level, and raise awareness about what older adults need to do to prepare for a healthy, social and happy future.   

"The majority of Canadians share a common desire for independence and may live alone as they grow older; a time of increased dependency on others."

 Five Aging Well workshops are being held in five different communities across the province. Three workshops in the series have been held in Comox, Kelowna and Abbotsford. Two more are planned for South Vancouver and Burns Lake. The workshops are facilitated by BCHC and have been made possible through the support from the local seniors organizations in these communities and a partnership with the Province of BC.

Facilitators, Michelle Sandsmark and Sue McKinnon organize the workshops around five universal topics as described on the Healthy Families BC website; health and well-being, housing, transportation, social connections and finances. The material is tailored for seniors and caregivers in the community who are preparing for an aging journey or already needing support. “We are consistently hearing that people have concerns about aging,” says McKinnon, BCHC Program Manager, “We hear that transportation is challenging and people are worried about being a financial burden to their families.”

"A lot of people don’t realize what services are available to them, and through these workshops we are able to help people connect with the people, information and resources they need to age well."

The workshops provide practical guidance and contact information for services available locally. They are sharing information about well-established organizations that support seniors. “A lot of people don’t realize what services are available to them, and through these workshops we are able to help people connect with the people, information and resources they need to age well,” explains Michelle Sandsmark, Program Coordinator at BCHC.

 “For example, Better at Home is a fairly new program with many offerings. They help seniors with day-to-day activities such as washing dishes, friendly conversation or fixing a light bulb so that they can continue to live independently in their own homes and remain connected to their communities. We’ve also heard that participants are checking out the affordable housing resources such as the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program.”

"Some people are taking creative approaches to preparing for their aging journey."

Along with getting resources for healthy aging, participants watch short videos showing how some people are taking creative approaches to preparing for their aging journey and staying in touch with people in their social networks. Like Dave - a third generation mariner who is aging well by doing what he loves - continuing to work as a commercial fisher and biking to work or Connie who volunteers in search and rescue.

A senior in the audience saw the value in looking ahead stating, “It was a reminder to start planning for aging well early in life. Becoming familiar with where to find services before you require them and don't have the time to navigate the system is important.”

Subject matter experts present key information and table discussions are built into the agenda so participants have the opportunity to share their stories with each other and ask questions. Social connectedness has becoming a key theme of the dialogue at the workshops. ‘“We are seeing the interest and importance of social connection to achieve better health, transportation, housing and financial security,” explains Sandsmark. 

One participant reflected on the research presented, “The professor from University of BC - Okanagan really got me thinking about social connections, exercise and the latest research results for slowing or preventing dementia.” Another person said, “I learned I could get help when I need it. I saw that there are many of us aging and the socialization was really good.”

"She got me thinking about social connections, exercise and the latest research results for slowing or preventing dementia."

These workshops have been a platform for bringing people together and talking to others about what is available in their communities and to further those connections. The goal is to make the workshop a starting off point that prompts people to take action and influence those in their own social networks, which ultimately benefit the communities.

MICHELLE SANDSMARK
BC Healthy Communities c/o theDock
300-722 Cormorant St. 
Victoria, BC V8W 1P8
E-mail: michelle@bchealthycommunities.ca

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