On the other side of 50, people start to take stock, looking back to where they came from and what they have achieved; assessing their path in retrospect and considering the legacy they will leave to future generations. This can be a time of positive validation or it can be a time of reckoning that leads to isolation and depression. In the near future, more people will be looking to the past than ever before. ‘Baby Boomers’ are retiring, and they represent the largest cohort of people ever recorded. This aging population will not only have a significant economic impact, but cultural and social impacts on communities as well. Ted Fishman, in his book, Shock of Gray, believes that “how societies treat the growing number of elders within their populations will be influenced both by cultural traditions [Living Heritage] as well as current and future economic realities.”

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Public Health Agency of Canada have websites that provide information and resources with regards to the “age-friendly” concept.

In an age-friendly community, the policies, services and structures related to the physical and social environment are designed to help seniors "age actively." In other words, the community is set up to help seniors live safely, enjoy good health and stay involved.”

In the 2006 discussion brief, Healthy Aging in Canada: A New Vision, A Vital Investment, (quoted above) prepared for the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Committee of Officials (Seniors), five key focus areas were identified: social connectedness, physical activity, healthy eating, falls prevention and tobacco control. The brief states,

Decision-makers can help foster social networks for older people by supporting a range of opportunities for social engagement, including volunteerism, “age-friendly” designs in the built environment that foster social engagement, lifelong learning, employment, recreation, and civic participation. Policies, services and programs need to address the barriers that restrict or limit social engagement by older adults, and encourage social connections among and between generations.”[1]

In order to do this effectively, each of these areas needs to be considered through a Living Heritage lens. The social environment as expressed through social participation, respect and social inclusion, and civic participation, is as important to aging in place as outdoor spaces and buildings, housing and health services. There is no escaping the reality that as people age, they will experience an increasing loss of ability in many areas of life, to which they constantly have to adapt. As a result, an understanding of Living Heritage; how the past has shaped the way individuals view their present circumstances and the strategies they use to cope with those circumstances is essential to developing and implementing effective programs and services. Moreover, there are many life-lessons that older adults can pass on to the next generation.

The Saskatchewan Seniors’ Mechanism launched the Age-Friendly Saskatchewan website in 2014 (www.agefriendlysk.ca) joining several other provinces in promoting the concept of age-friendly communities to address quality of life issues for seniors. The Saskatoon Council on Aging has also undertaken an “age-friendly” initiative based on the standards established by the WHO. The report, Positive Aging for All, summarizes the findings from phase one of the initiative. Over 500 older adults, caregivers and service providers participated in focus groups, online and paper surveys, and interviews to provide baseline data. They were asked to respond to a very basic question: Is Saskatoon an Age-friendly city? Phase two of the initiative included identifying the programs and services for older adults, a gap analysis, and the development of an action plan. In addition, phase two was designed to provide business leaders, service providers and political leaders with opportunities to collaborate with older adults in strategic planning and policy development to ensure that the action plan compliments the city’s overall Community Vision strategic plan.

Other Saskatchewan communities have participated in research related to aging in place as well. The Saskatchewan Population Health Education Research Unit (SPHERU) at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina, launched a pilot study focussing on the needs of rural seniors. Initial results indicated that, “rural seniors’ health needs extend significantly beyond the formal healthcare system.” [2] The project has resulted in the development of a Rural Healthy Aging Assessment Framework and the identification of five rural healthy aging domains: cognitive/mental health, independence, mobility, social and community interactions, and a supportive environment. Research continues and several reports are available from the website: www.spheru.ca

The Alzheimer Society’s sobering 2010 report, Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society can be downloaded from their web site: www.alzheimer.ca. The report projects the economic and social costs of dementia in Canada given our aging population and this report led to another, Dementia in Canada: A National Strategy for Dementia-friendly Communities, released in 2016. The University of Regina, Centre on Aging and Health (CAH), reflects the cross-disciplinary research interests being pursued in the area of gerontology and also recognizes the growing needs of an aging population. Rebecca Genoe, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, is a member of the CAH. Her research interests relate to the role of leisure in the lives of older adults living with chronic illness, specifically how leisure becomes a coping mechanism for managing the symptoms of chronic illness as well as the negative stereotypes or stigma associated with illness. In her article, There is life after diagnosis: Dementia, leisure, and meaning-focused coping she highlights the importance of participating in leisure activities as a positive way of coping with the many changes that occur as illness progresses, not only for the individual diagnosed but for the caregivers, family and friends as well; recognizing that illness affects not only the individual but the network of people who provide support and form their social circle.

Also growing is the evidence base for the value of reminiscence particularly as it relates to dementia care. People of all ages reminisce about past experiences however, reminiscing takes on a larger role in our lives as we cope with the inevitable losses associated with the aging process; dementia being but one of them. Reminiscence based programs are incorporated into most adult program strategies for long-term care home residents. Such programs can take many forms but all call for an understanding of the significant influence of Living Heritage. The field of narrative gerontology is growing as evidence mounts for the benefits of sharing life stories with others. In his article, Life Storytelling, occupation social participation and aging, (www.caot.ca) Barry Trentham suggests that, “by telling our life story we participate in a social process that engages both storytellers and story listeners, providing a means to share wisdom, humour, encouragement and histories. . . . to tell one’s story publicly is to participate meaningfully in family and community building.”

The Saskatchewan Seniors’ Mechanism (SSM) recently received a grant from the New Horizons for Seniors Program to host forums/focus groups throughout the province in order to “engage older adults and others to develop the framework for a province-wide strategy that would provide quality life for Saskatchewan’s aging population.” Developing a Seniors Strategy requires not only broad public engagement but a multi-sectoral approach that includes not only healthcare, but consideration of mobility/transportation, housing, life-long learning and other opportunities for social interaction. The strategy should also consider the role of technology in the lives of older adults as it can allow them to remain in their homes as long as possible. Moreover, particular attention should be paid to the Living Heritage of older adults whose traditions, values and beliefs inform their sense of identity, belonging and place. It will necessarily involve both government and non-government institutions and organizations. More information is available on the SSM’s website www.skseniorsmechanism.ca

According to Statistics Canada, “all population projection scenarios” suggest that seniors will “comprise around 23% to 25% of the population by 2036, and around 24% to 28% in 2061.” 2016 census numbers for Saskatchewan show that residents over 65 years of age represent over 15% of the total population with females outnumbering their male counterparts. With Saskatchewan’s aging population in mind, Heritage Saskatchewan recently partnered with the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, to develop a policy brief focused on aging in place. Isaac Mpinda’s summer student placement was made possible through a Nelson Mandela’s African Leaders of Tomorrow (ALT) scholarship and the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE).

[1] Edwards, Peggy and Aysha Mawani, Healthy Aging in Canada: A New Vision, A Vital Investment

From Evidence to Action, a Background Paper prepared for the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Committee of Officials (Seniors) by The Alder Group, September 2006, p. 13.

[2] Saskatchewan Population Health Education Research Unit, Healthy Aging in Place newsletter, Winter 2012. (downloaded November 2013)

Sandra Massey, Research Program Coordinator
Sandra has been an active member of the cultural community for over 20 years. A student by nature, Sandra’s recent interests include memory and the value of personal storytelling, exploring the fine line between fact and fiction, and how we create meaning and build a sense of identity, belonging and place in a pluralistic world.