Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Who are you?

If asked that question 10 years ago, I had a number of answers, but the one I liked the best was I am a teacher in Surrey. When I retired I no longer felt I could answer the question. 

We are social animals and part of are connectedness to others is knowing who we are, and what we have to contribute to the greater good. 

Once you are retired, the odds are that you will have trouble finding an answer to the question: "Who are you?" This loss of status is harder for men than for women, and it has taken me years to find an answer that I am comfortable with and the answer I have know is I am an educator and I have always been a learner. 

We are social beings and we need to keep connected to others and the quality and number of connections you have with others in your social circle including family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances, helps keep us healthy in retirement. Other terms used for this need are social support, social capital and social engagement. At a very basic level, being socially active brings enjoyment and meaning to your life.

Consequently, you experience an upswing in your overall quality of life and well-being. Part of the connection we have is how we define our role, and that means how we define ourselves. Who are you, or who you think you are plays an important role in determining how or if you will interact with others.

Although social connectedness plays a significant role in health, we as seniors or boomers are more likely than any other age group to feel lonely or isolated. This social isolation is defined as less social contact than someone wishes, causing loneliness or other emotional distress. In “normal” aging, a our social circle may grow smaller due to:

  • Illness or disability
  • Loss of spouse or friends – more than 6% of Canadians over the age of 65 reported not having any friends
  • Caregiver responsibilities
  • Poverty
  • Lack of personal hygiene 
For seniors, social exclusion is found in several forms: 
  • Exclusion from society due to laws or societal discrimination (e.g. mandatory retirement)
  • Failure of society to provide for the needs of seniors (e.g. affordable housing)
  • Denial of opportunities to contribute and participate actively in society (e.g. not being represented on a community planning committee)
  • Economic exclusion (e.g. unequal or lack of access to resources)
One of the barriers to social connectedness for seniors is discrimination based on society’s negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging. This is a problem, because agism is hidden and most people deny they discriminate based on age, but ask any of us who have white hair and look old, we experience this discrimination.

Social exclusion is the inability for certain groups or individuals to participate fully in Canadian life due to inequalities in accessing social, economic, political and cultural resources.

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