Inclusion and Wellbeing as We Age: A Vital Conversation

Apr. 14, 2016 in Articles

Staying connected to our family, friends, neighbours and communities is a critical factor in healthy aging.

In partnership with the Victoria Foundation, Eldercare Foundation, and Island Health, BC Healthy Communities hosted a Vital Conversation on March 23rd Yakimovich Wellness Centre. The event called upon people of all ages to participate in a dialogue about well-being as we age.

In particular, we sought out to explore the relationship between social connections and life transitions. 

Using a Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) Adaptive Action approach, the evening was framed around three key questions: What? So What? Now What?

WHAT?

Participants reflected on what patterns they saw around social connectedness and impacts on the systems we live in.

Research has shown that our social connections have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. There are multiple sources that have found that feeling isolated from others can: disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase depression, and lower overall subjective well-being. On the flip side, positive social connections have the exact opposite effect on health and wellbeing; this is particularly true for older adults.

"Feeling isolated from others can: disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase depression, and lower overall subjective well-being."

People often become disconnected when they experience a negative life transition. For example, when a person moves to a new neighbourhood, they find it challenging to meet new people and are at higher risk for feeling isolated.

SO WHAT?

This part of the session was an opportunity to dig deeper and examine the relationship between life transitions and social connectedness beyond the formal research and data. Participants were asked two critical questions during this part of the session:

  • What contributes to your feeling or experience of social connectedness? (Example: I feel connected when…)
  • How have significant life transitions affected your social connections (or those you know)?  Where? When? Examples?

Participants began to share numerous stories and personal experiences so the group could begin to grasp the whole picture of the relationship between social connectedness and life transitions. 

For example, people said that they feel more connected when they volunteer at community events; belong to a club or social group; or have a dog or children. These can all have a positive impact on social connections because people are able to relate and interact with others easily.

"As people age and go through life transitions, what can support staying connected to others?"

As the group began to discuss the impacts of significant life transitions, participants shared how retirement can sometimes have a negative affect on social connections as does moving to a new neighbourhood because you are starting a new, unfamiliar chapter in life.

These stories, and more, began to uncover the opportunities and challenges that arise during our aging journey, while also reaffirming that there are both positive and negative impacts of life transitions on our social connections.

NOW WHAT?

Towards the end of the session, participants were asked one more critical question: As people age and go through life transitions, what can support staying connected to others?

They discussed how to take action to better support social connectedness in their neighbourhoods.

They explored ideas of how to send out specific invitations to people to those who are not very well connected to the community; hosting neighbourhood gatherings to enhance or connections to the people who live closest to us; and even creating spaces in our communities for more interactions to occur (e.g. book boxes or benches).

For more information about this event, age-friendly communities and aging well, contact:

Michelle Sandsmark
Program Coordinator
michelle@bchealthycommunities.ca
 

Additional Resources:

Credit: Michelle Sandsmark