Guest Blog: To live is to learn – A lifelong learning journey at the Centre

By Marta Owsik

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death
~ Albert Einstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning is the lifelong journey of acquiring knowledge or skills. It happens formally in schools and informally through life experiences, family and friends. In July 2015, lifelong learning was officially added as a fourth pillar of active aging to the World Health Organization’s Active Aging Policy Framework.

The Centre for Elder Research has a longstanding interest in lifelong learning and has worked on several funded research initiatives dating back to 2007. We recently completed an exploratory study for which we invited a select group of individuals to participate, as both learners and co-researchers, in 12 weekly sessions.

Participants came from very different backgrounds, were of different ages, at different stages and most did not know each other before the sessions began. Bringing together different perspectives and different experiences led to lively discussions and rich learning. Although Centre staff facilitated the sessions, they were relatively unstructured to allow the process to evolve organically.

First, the study group reviewed and discussed the literature on lifelong learning and came to a few conclusions:

  1. It is clear that engaging in learning is good for people as they age.
  2. While there are many lifelong learning opportunities available, many are formal programs that may not appeal to everyone.
  3. Older adults over the age of 75 appear to be quite neglected both in the literature and by existing lifelong learning opportunities.

The study participants decided that the major problem needing to be addressed was one of accessibility. Those aged 75+ may experience more barriers (external and internal) when it comes to actually accessing existing lifelong learning programs and many programs are not sensitive to a variety of needs, interests and learning styles.

So, study group developed a model for lifelong learning that is truly accessible for older adults of any age, including those age 75+. At its core, their model is one that is customizable, flexible and portable. As such, it can be designed to address an individual’s unique interests and needs, can accommodate a variety of learning styles and can be taken to where the learner is most comfortable, whether that be in their home or at the local library. The group believed that these features could overcome potential barriers and be inclusive for all types of learners.

This lifelong learning project was definitely a journey for the group, complete with detours, bumps and discoveries. Not only did we learn about the subject, we also learned about ourselves, each other, and group dynamics. It was interesting to see how important this subject was to the group members (who, by the way, had the best attendance records the Centre has ever seen!) and how flexible they were in their understanding of what learning is.

“A lot of what I’ve learned…” one participant explained “I didn’t think about it as learning at the time…but as part of living”. I think that sums up lifelong learning and this project quite nicely.

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Marta Owsik works as a project coordinator at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog: Dancing through life: Participation in a dance training program for community-based older adults with multiple medical comorbidities issues

By Kate Dupuis

Dance is one of the oldest art forms, with depictions of dancers dating back over 30,000 years. Even if we think that we have “two left feet”, when a favourite song comes on the radio, it is hard not to tap our toes or dance along in our seats. Throughout our lifespan, dance can help us to connect with others, express our emotions, and strengthen our bodies. Indeed, dance has many potential benefits as we age. Research has shown that, as we age, dance can benefit cognitive health (for example, improvements in memory and processing speed when remembering fancy footwork during ballroom dancing, or trying to keep up with the caller’s instructions when square dancing), physical health (increased strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance), mental well-being (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression), and social well-being (developing connections with others through dance, making new friends, getting to know the instructor). The physical benefits of dance may be particularly crucial for those older adults with mobility issues who may be at a heightened risk of falls. While many communities offer dance programs, these may not account for or provide accommodations for individuals who are experiencing multiple medical comorbidities, including mobility challenges.

At the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, we are currently conducting a research study in which community-dwelling older adults with mobility issues and at least two other medical comorbidities (e.g., high blood pressure, vision loss) are participating in 12 weeks of twice-weekly dance instruction. The sessions are led by a professionally-trained dance instructor, who has taken the time to understand each participant’s strengths and challenges, and makes specific accommodations for each of the dancers depending on their needs. We spoke with Pat Spadafora, the Director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, who said that “the decision was made to hire a professionally-trained dancer in order to capitalize on the extensive repertoire of material from her own training and performances which she can draw upon for inspiration and instruction during the sessions. In addition, professionally-trained dancers understand the biomechanics and anatomy involved in dance, which results in these teachers being able to make a wide variety of accommodations for their participants.” These accommodations are necessary and welcome for our participants.

The dance instructor, Paula Skimin, reports that she has seen remarkable improvements in the participants over the course of the program, including improvements in balance, stability, and “developing a knowledge of their skeleton and skeletal structure, which allows for more stability.” She stated that, from a social perspective, the participants have become comfortable sharing with one another, and that many have cried during class when specific songs have touched them. She has worked to “create a safe space where people feel comfortable to express themselves and to share about their past, present, and future.”

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researcher will meet with each of the participants individually to discuss their perspective on the program. Many of them have already expressed a desire to continue with their dancing. We hope that, with new evidence to support the provision of dance training for individuals with multiple medical comorbidities, we will be able to offer similar programs in the future!

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Kate Dupuis is the new Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging at Sheridan College. She studies how participation in the creative and performing arts can serve to enhance the wellbeing of older adults. In particular, Kate is interested in discovering the personal characteristics of individuals who are drawn to participate in the arts, and identifying the physical, psychological, social, and systemic barriers to participation.

Guest Blog: Celebrating the accomplishments of successful individuals age 50+

 

 

By Ann Hossack and Marylou Hilliard

What do Cher, Steven Spielberg and William J. Clinton have in common? They are among the first baby boomers to turn 70 during 2017. Unlike previous generations who saw milestones such as retirement or turning 70 as indicators they were approaching the end of their life; today’s boomers are vibrant, engaged and continue to make positive contributions in their professions and to society.

According to The Globe & Mail – “The Boomer Shift – January 5, 2017, “As of this year, for the first time, Canada has more people over the age of 65 than under 15. The age group that now encompasses the boomer generation – 50 to 69 – makes up 27 per cent of the population, compared with 18 per cent in that age group two decades ago”.

This aging population is changing the fabric of society; so why is it that society is still obsessed with youth – just think about all those Top 30 under 30 and top 40 over 40 lists. Traditionally, innovation and “change-making” has primarily been recognized to be within the sphere of the young.

However, individuals who are mid-life aged and beyond represent an incredible source of talent, experience and wisdom that provides them the opportunity to make a difference in their lives and to the world. They have a desire to follow their passions, fulfill lifelong dreams and improve the future for generations to come. Moreover they are among the largest group of individuals to keep philanthropic efforts and volunteerism, which are critical to societal progress alive and well.

That’s why AGEWORKS has chosen to publicly acknowledge successful accomplishments of people aged 50+; to raise awareness for this inequity and to demonstrate that older people offer a variety of innovative solutions to an array of important societal issues.

The AGEWORKS Top 50 Over 50 Awards celebrate Canadians who know who to dream, create, contribute and achieve in many different areas. Winners will be acknowledged at the inaugural Top 50 Over 50 Awards Gala being held in Toronto in November 2017.

The recipients, and their stories, will serve as inspiration to others with a message that you’re never too old to make significant changes in your career or your life via reinvention, pursue a long-held dream or redefine what it means to be successful. These amazing stories will be publicly leveraged to help combat some of the ageism myths, like over 50 means over the hill, that still exist.

Success will be measured on a variety of criteria, including finding purpose, social change, innovation and inspiring others, by a panel of independent judges who have significant expertise and involvement within the 50+ category. Selected judges recognize the importance of these awards and will bring their objectivity and enthusiasm to this essential role.

For more information or to nominate someone go to:  http://www.ageworks.co

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Marylou Hilliard has over 25 years of advertising expertise and has earned a reputation as a brand champion. She has worked with a broad range of clients targeting an “ageing population” including the development of a new brand identity and design of several research reports for International Federation on Ageing and volunteer work for the Consumers Council of Canada and Psychologist Foundation of Canada.

Ann Hossack has held senior database marketing roles and has communicated effectively to consumer and business-to-business markets including those 50+ across a wide variety of industries. She believes that companies have yet to fully embrace this target group and is determined to promote the value of 50+ individuals as employees, entrepreneurs, volunteers or consumers.

Guest Blog: Interdepartmental Communication in Long-term Care

By Sarah Murray

While completing my Bachelor of Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University, I had the opportunity to do my placement at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research and a long-term care home. While I was at placement, I observed different types of communication between staff and residents. Doing so made me aware of how important effective communication is when working in these settings; this communication is verbal, non-verbal and written. Some barriers to communication in long-term care settings are lack of time to communicate, language barriers, disabilities and cognitive impairments. Communication in long-term care homes is essential to create a positive work environment for the staff and residents.

The nature of long-term care makes it hard for effective communication to take place; most workers are swarmed with work and have to manage a large caseload of residents. The residents of these homes all have their own unique individual needs that need to be addressed; there is no one solution when working with individuals who have cognitive impairments. Benefits of effective communication in the work place include; employee satisfaction, greater staff efficiency, and result in a positive team environment for both the staff and the residents of the home. There are also risks associated with poor communication; these include staff burnout, low staff morale, negative work environment and unmet needs of residents. When the resident’s needs are unmet it can create another wave of communication breakdown, due to responsive behaviors associated with unmet needs in dementia patients. These events can also intensify staff burnout and make the work environment less desirable.

Tips for communication for residents with Dementia (from the Alzheimer Society of Ontario):

  • Introduce yourself, instead of assuming the patient remembers you.
  • Be calm, friendly and communicate at their pace. (Sometimes vocalizing words is difficult for dementia patients, give them the time to pronounce the word)
  • Give instructions once at a time rather then all at once, and wait for a response
  • Maintain engaging open body language (crossed arms may indicate you are angry or annoyed)
  • If the resident repeats themselves, do not tell them so; instead act like it is the first time your hearing it
  • Never say “Don’t you remember” or correct their ideas
  • Do not change the tone of your voice when speaking to individuals with dementia and avoid baby talk

In 2010, 35.6 million people worldwide were living with dementia, a number that is expected to double in 20 years. (Statistics Canada, 2016) Hospitals and long-term care homes and community organizations will have their hands full to provide care to this aging demographic. The first skill needed to positively deal with this demand is communication, if this is done correctly many older adults and their families will benefit, as well as staff employed to work with this population.

When communication is perfect on every level, it creates an environment of trust and respect that allows people to maintain a sense of dignity and pride.
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Sarah Murray completed her placement at the Centre for Elder Research while achieving her Bachelor of Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Wong, S. Gilmour, H. Ramage-Morin, P. (2016) Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in Canada. Statistics Canada.
http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2016005/article/14613-eng.htm