Sunday, April 24, 2016

Respect and Social Inclusion in Age Friendly communities

I am continuing my look at a report prepared for the Healthy Aging and Wellness Working Group of the Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial (F/P/T)   Committee of Officials (seniors) in 2006 that focused on age friendly communities.

Older persons want to do more than simply continue to reside in their communities—they want to be able to contribute to, and benefit from, community life.  Active and involved seniors are less likely to experience social isolation and more likely to feel connected to their communities.  These connections are particularly important, given the strong linkages between social isolation and health. While social isolation tends to increase as people age, communities that promote social participation and inclusion are better able protect the health of their citizens, including those who are socially isolated

Focus group discussions point out that, in general, older persons in rural and remote communities are treated with a great deal of respect, kindness and courtesy by all generations—a view shared by both older participants and confirmed by service providers in the groups.  Even though several service providers observed that retailers and customers become impatient with seniors who may move at a slower pace, very few participants expressed dissatisfaction with the way that  older persons were treated and included in community life.  In fact, most said that older persons were included, consulted and made to feel a part of the community, with several attributing this to the “small-town” philosophy of rural or remote Canada.

Discussion results point to some cultural differences in how older persons were shown respect.  For example, one participant spoke of how calling older persons “Mr.” or “Mrs.” was common practice in the community.  A participant from another community (with a large Aboriginal population) remarked that calling an older woman “Auntie” was one of the highest forms of respect.
In yet another community, the older persons label themselves, and are referred to by others, as “elders” rather than seniors. This was attributed to the fact that the community had a “mixed” (Aboriginal/non- Aboriginal) population.  While it was suggested by at least one participant that younger people were sometimes perceived as being somewhat disrespectful because of the informal way in which they addressed seniors (i.e., not using “Mr.” or “Mrs.”)—others assumed that this was more a lack of “education” rather than disrespect.

Participants from all parts of Canada offered numerous examples of intergenerational respect and interaction, many originating in the schools.  Intergenerational activities provide opportunities for older adults to interact with younger groups—allowing them to pass on knowledge, traditions and skills.  Focus group results also show that communities demonstrate their respect and appreciation of seniors through many and varied events and awards that recognize or celebrate older persons.  Such events as “senior’s dinners” were cited frequently as recognition events—others mentioned include community memoirs that capture the stories of seniors.

Some participants suggested that one acceptable way to show respect is to acknowledge and accept that not all older persons wish to be active in the community.

The serious issues of elder abuse, or neglect, were noted during discussions of the challenges family members and other caregivers face.  Service provider participants identified the importance of and need for providers to be taught/trained in how to support families in challenging circumstances.
Despite the efforts of individuals and communities, isolation of older persons exists and persists in rural and remote communities.  Such isolation is often, but not always, the result of health or mobility issues. 

Older adults and service providers identified that the reason some seniors are lonely is the changing times in which we live—characterized by neighbours being “just not as neighbourly” as before. Nevertheless, it is clear that, in some communities, much effort is made to reach older persons who might suffer from isolation—whether by ensuring that older persons have been invited and included in community activities, or by merely taking note when older persons do not show up at an event at which they were expected.
Summary of Key Findings
Discussions about respect for seniors and the importance of preventing social isolation pinpointed some ideas about what constitutes an age-friendly community, as well as barriers and suggestions for improvement on these fronts:

Age-friendly features include 
       Respect, kindness and courtesy—including across generations
       Accommodation including outreach
       Feel included, consulted and part of the community
       Events or awards that recognize seniors

Barriers include 
       Health or mobility issues that lead to isolation of older adults
       Disrespect, ageism or elder abuse
       Older persons not always heard or seen

Suggestions from participants for improving age-friendliness 
       Provide opportunities for intergenerational activities and events—don’t isolate older people.
       Provide support to families in challenging circumstances to help prevent elder abuse.
       Make younger people aware of aging issues and the importance of treating older people with respect—consider offering seminars on what it’s like to be older.
       Start an honorary grandparent program—it can provide a focus for intergenerational activities and contact in the community.
       Promote positive qualities of aging and older people (instead of focusing on the negative).
       Put in place a “community memories” program in a local museum (or promote those that already exist).  The older phase of a life is an important one that can be captured and kept through stories.
       Consider establishing outreach programs, such as the “telephone assurance” program that is being used in some communities.

       Develop and support key outreach measures—the voluntary and informal transportation networks that are so vital to ensuring that older people who lack transportation options are not isolated.