While it’s never too late to plan for retirement and the aging process, younger seniors – between the ages of 50 and 65 – should be encouraged to start as early as possible.
To accomplish this, Sandra Meehan, Seniors Hub Community Development Coordinator at the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House (SVNH), used an Aging Well grant from BC Healthy Communities Society (BCHC) to host a full-day forum in March 2017 at the Sunset Community Centre in South Vancouver. An initiative of BCHC and the Government of British Columbia, Aging Well provides materials, facilitation and funding for communities to assist seniors, and people who are soon to retire, plan for a healthy, independent future.
Over 50 participants attended and received a drop-in pass for community centre programs as well as a wellness booklet. Meehan also raffled off a one-month pass to the centre and registrants were provided lunch and snacks throughout the day.
Structured around three speakers and facilitated by BCHC, the forum featured booths from local agencies such as a community mental health team and Seniors Hub, and a short fitness break led by an exercise physiologist. Keynote speaker Margaret Critchlow presented her experiences of aging with her community through co-housing in Sooke; Rebecca Sovdi, a Senior Policy Analyst and registered Dietician with the First Nations Health Authority, focused on the relationship between mental health and nutrition; and Dr. George Iwama, Chancellor of Quest University Canada, spoke on how aging had affected his life, and how the changes he made helped him flourish as a person.
Following the presentations, discussions were facilitated by BCHC and SVNH staff. At each table, participants were encouraged to share their knowledge of and experiences with the five Aging Well topics (housing, transportation, finances, social connectedness, and physical health). They then shared their collective findings with the entire room.
Participants discovered that the five Aging Well topics were interconnected, and that if they lacked focus in even one area, it had a significant impact on the quality of their lives. They said they felt empowered by the day’s discussion and received new information about aging well that will help them make decisions about how they want to age. Meehan also noted that just providing the opportunity for participants to talk with one another improved social connectedness amongst them, alleviating feelings of isolation and depression.
Post-event surveys indicate success: 85% of participants agreed they learned something new, 73% felt more connected to resources, and 81% left the forum with a better understanding of available resources. However, only 44% of participants were in the target population of 50-65 years of age; Meehan notes that the target group does not identify as older adults, and therefore does not see the forum as relevant to them.
In order to increase the number of younger seniors for its next event, Meehan is planning to use more mindful promotion, avoiding terms like “aging” or “older” while “addressing the societal ageism that causes our reluctance to acknowledge our inevitable aging.” She is also thinking of partnering with current workplace initiatives to reach the target demographic, as well as focusing on health and nutrition. Building on the success of the forum, SVNH and Sunset Community Centre have partnered to offer regular workshops on aging for younger and older seniors, kicking off with an introduction to the fitness facilities.