What’s the secret of a long life? For 86-year-old Bernice, it is painting, crocheting and playing ukulele, while 93-year-old Janine credits eating properly – meat, potatoes, vegetables and dessert. And like 74% of seniors over 85 they are living in their own homes.
Like a growing number of Richmond citizens, these women are at the vanguard of aging well in Canada. People in this seaside city live to be almost 86 years old, more than four years longer than the national average according to Statistics Canada.
Playing music and eating Brussels sprouts may have contributed to their longevity, but there’s another factor that is making life meaningful – companionship. That’s because loneliness and isolation can negatively impact health making people more susceptible to depression, chronic disease, frailty and cognitive decline.
Because getting out of the house is challenging, once a week, Janine gets a friendly visit from Gail.
“In France, we enjoy discussing politics. Nobody agrees with anybody else, but that’s what we like to discuss and I guess it’s stayed with me,” Janine says. So, she and Gail discuss politics.
Bernice says having someone to talk with, like her friendly visitor Sunhee, has made her life better.
“[Sunhee] brought her dog and we walked to the water…I really felt good after that walk outside with someone.”
Ninety percent of BC seniors taking part in Better at Home, a program that helps seniors like Janine and Bernice, live independently and remain in their communities. Both say they are more active, engaged and connected as a result.
An incredible 97 percent of volunteers connected to Better at Home report an increased sense of purpose and self-esteem.
“Bernice is so sweet… and so full of wisdom,” Sunhee says. “She’s just been a real blessing for me. I’m learning a lot from her and not just ukulele. Just about life. Not to take life so seriously.”
Older British Columbians and the communities they live in are reshaping later life
Social connectedness and its impact on aging was a hot topic at the biennial Provincial Summit on Aging in Richmond November 7 and 8, which was hosted by Healthy Aging by United Way.
Over 350 delegates from across BC converged in the city to discuss and collaborate on current issues and innovations in healthy aging.
“British Columbia is home to seven of Canada’s 10 oldest communities. Over 30% of seniors taking part in Richmond Better at Home programs are over 85. That’s pretty amazing and it clearly shows there is a strong need to adapt our thinking on aging and what that means,” says Kahir Lalji, Provincial Director, Population Health at United Way.
Better at Home’s unique ‘seniors planning for seniors’ approach means older adults contribute to the design, operation and evaluation of their local program whether it is in an urban or rural area. It’s also an example of how BC’s community-based seniors services (CBSS) organizations, older adults, family and friend caregivers, academia and government representatives are helping ensure BC has the capacity to address priorities in aging in our province’s population now and into the future.
Re-thinking aging was a widely discussed topic at the Summit, with a number of perspectives on aging and ageism tabled. Those in attendance worked to unpack myths on aging as well as social and health inequities that can influence quality of life in later years.
“The decisions we make as individuals and communities determines how successfully we all age,” says Isobel Mackenzie, BC Seniors Advocate during the opening address.
“We have to empower people over 65,” says Adrian Dix, British Columbia Minister of Health opening the Summit’s second day. “I so support the work that [the community-based services sector] and United Way are doing to develop the society we want.”
Local governments and service agencies working together
Local governments play a key role in inspiring their citizens to be engaged, active and connected. Richmond is a good example of how municipal governments are rethinking aging. Along with a moderate climate, numerous parks and many community facilities offering programs and services to those 55+, the City has a full-time Seniors Coordinator to advise staff and Council on matters relating to a diverse range of seniors on a planning and policy level.
The City also has strong partnerships with community associations and societies delivering programs and services at City facilities including Vancouver Coastal Health and Richmond-based seniors-focused non-profit organizations like Richmond Gives, Richmond Cares, which runs Better at Home services like the ones Janine and Bernice receive.
“The City planning is excellent,” says Frances Ho, Program Coordinator for Richmond Better at Home. “There’s always a grocery store nearby. It’s very easy to transit here. There are a lot of bus stops in a lot of places.”
“It is our collective responsibility to ensure that all people live in accessible, inclusive and healthy communities,” Kahir says.
“We applaud the many BC municipalities are leaders in this area, including members of United Way’s Municipal Caucus, which consists of locally elected officials and municipal staff, and champions the CBSS Declaration, partnerships, and support for seniors and Healthy Aging by United Way at the local government level.”
When communities, governments and community members are more aware of older adults’ needs, more vulnerable seniors can get the help they need. For Summit updates today follow #SummitonAging2019. For updates, resources and additional information following the Summit, visit healthyagingcore.ca/.
Better at Home operates 75 core programs in 90+ communities.The Government of British Columbia funds the program, while United Way of the Lower Mainland manages it, and local non-profit organizations provide the services.