Active aging key to seniors’ independence

Active aging key to seniors’ independence;  Living at home just part of being independent; seniors must keep active, engaged to stay healthy

Eric Steven wants to learn how to use a computer so that he can talk over the webcam with his grandkids.

“My wife will see our grandchildren on Skype and I don’t have the faintest idea how she does it,” he says. “I’m embarrassed by my ignorance.”

Steven, 75, is a member of the Tantramar Seniors College and is at People’s Park Towers for a computer class taught by Dennis Damsell, who is 84.

“When grandchildren try to teach they go too fast,” explains Damsell.

Computer class at Tantramar is certainly not fast. But it is a chance for seniors to get out of the house, socialize, and learn something new.

“Everybody thinks I’m crazy because I’m 85 and I want to do this,” says Ortha Matthews. “Most people at 85, they don’t do these things.”

Matthews is also learning French. Tantramar offers courses in pottery, poker, quilting, legal matters, art history, tennis, bicycle maintenance, geology, and Scottish country dancing, among others. For a yearly membership fee, seniors can participate in as many classes as they like.

“I’ve decided to get into it just to keep my brain sharp,” says Fred Taylor, 78.

The number of seniors in New Brunswick is set to double – to 227,200 – in the next 20 years. In Moncton, people over the age of 50 already account for one-third of residents and are the fastest growing segment of the population.

The provincial government has launched a new senior care strategy dedicated to keeping people in their own homes as long as possible, to relieve some of the strain on the acute care system. But staying home doesn’t necessarily mean staying healthy.

“The homebound tendencies tend to kick in really quick,” says Mary Bourgeois, a recreational therapist at the K.E. Spencer Memorial Home.

She explains it is easy for elderly people to fall into a pattern of going from bed to the breakfast table, to the couch, to the table and back to bed.

“Home is good. We all want to stay home. But we have to get outside the walls,” says Barbara Tremble Cook, Spencer’s executive director.

Louise Gilbert, a member of Moncton city council’s Seniors Advisory Committee says it is important to make an effort to stay active immediately after retirement.

“You have to retire to something,” she explains.

Peggy Humby took up teaching aerobics for seniors and performing stand-up comedy when she retired from a career as a business owner. She is also the regional director of CARP – a seniors advocacy group – and her husband Peter continues to teach accounting at Crandall University.

“We’ve had to learn how to be young at 70,” she says.

Staying young at heart, and in body, is essential for seniors who wish to remain independent. Maintaining mental alertness and regular physical activity can help seniors cope with the day-to-day challenges of being at home, such as cooking, doing chores, and running errands.

For seniors who need some extra help getting out and about, day programs provide structured activities and some personal care.

Day programs, sometimes referred to as “granny daycare,” can help senior citizens remain independent, and also help their families ensure they have the care they need to stay in their homes.

The Spencer home runs a day program Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Seniors can come in for one day a week, or up to all four.

Day centre participants get lunch and snacks and participate in activities such as Nintendo Wii sessions, bread baking, chair yoga, chapel and gardening. They also have access to a dietician, hair dresser, podiatrist and registered nurse.

The province will be looking to expand on day programs like Spencer’s in order to care for the increasing number of seniors.

Ken McGeorge, the director of York Manor in Fredericton, says that facility is looking into starting a day program of its own.

“The whole idea of a day program being to really help the family maintain mom or dad at home in their own environment,” he says.

“We’ve learned, of course, that families struggle to do that under current circumstances.”

Much of the work of keeping seniors at home longer falls to their caregivers – spouses and adult children. For the so-called “sandwich generation”, those caring for young children and aging parents, looking after a senior parent can be stressful.

Bourgeois says day programs give families a break and ensure the participants get enough mental and physical stimulation to keep them healthy.

“(Families) can’t do all the things that we can do,” she says, explaining that if an elderly person is trying to look after their spouse at home, sometimes it is all they can do to just keep up with necessities. Never mind going for walks and playing chess and cooking balanced meals all the time.

“(The day program) really gives that home life balance that we all need,” says Bourgeois.

n Grey Matters is a four-part series. Tomorrow, the final article, “A centre of their own,” will look at the need for a seniors’ centre in Moncton, as a way to bring the community together and start planning for our greying future.

Source: Times & Transcript (Moncton)

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