Social networks, social participation and feelings of belonging are important to healthy living, disease prevention and the prevention of isolation among seniors. Older people who remain active in society and socially connected are happier, physically and mentally healthier, and better able to cope with life’s ups and downs.
The focus group discussions shed some light on the social activities of seniors living in rural and remote communities across Canada. The three most frequently mentioned social activities in such communities include:
An important and common factor in these frequently occurring community activities is that they bring together generations of people. Older persons in the focus groups frequently talked about the importance and desirability of mixing with other adults and children of all ages. One innovative program mentioned was a “seniors, moms and tots” swimming program. Others mentioned that they (older people) also regularly curl with younger people in the community, and many said they meet up with other family members and other community members at the hockey arena or the school gymnasium to cheer on community sports teams.
Some older focus group participants, but not all, said they prefer not to participate in “seniors” events or to restrict themselves to only friendships with people their own age
Food acts as a huge connector between members of rural and remote communities, and this became very apparent early in each focus group. Similarly, funerals and wakes, and other events that bring people together at times of death surfaced frequently in the discussions. While participants identified community and other organized events as important, other, less organized social contact is also clearly important to many. This may include, for example, a service provider taking time to stop for a cup of tea or coffee while attending to his or her “client.”
Walking is also a favourite participatory pastime of older persons. In addition, courses— especially computer courses—are popular amongst older residents in some rural or remote communities, as are card clubs, bingo and darts.
Some participants raised the issue that, at least in some communities, older people who are newcomers to a community (e.g., people who move to a rural community in retirement) can face a different social reality than those who have lived there most of their lives.
Some of the older adult focus group participants raised concerns that many seniors do not take advantage of the programs available to them. In some cases, this has led to recreational facilities closing down. Others noted that funding problems have left facilities without management and program staff. The lack of transportation arises, yet again, as a key barrier to older persons’ participation in social events. Other common barriers identified include a lack of information about planned events (information not getting out to people in a timely or efficient manner), and problems of affordability and accessibility that prevent some seniors from being able to participate in social activities and programs.
Summary of Key Findings
Focus group participants offered a number of suggestions for communities to consider in social planning and programming for seniors:
Age-friendly features include