Left to right: Rachelle Patille, Cari Randa, Eireann O’Dea (Jewish Seniors Alliance board member and event moderator) and Boah Kim. (Courtesy JSA)
On Dec. 4, Jewish Seniors Alliance presented their fall symposium: Aging in Place: Gerontology Research in Community Living. The speakers – Rachelle Patille, Cari Randa and Boah Kim – and the moderator, Eireann O’Dea, are all graduate students in gerontology from Simon Fraser University and they shared their research on intergenerational connections, dementia-friendly communities and the role of informal caregivers for older adults.
The event took place at the Peretz Centre but was also available by Zoom. Aside from the JSA annual general meeting, this gathering was the first event presented in a dual format since the outbreak of COVID. Fifty participants joined online and about 20 were present in person.
Tammi Belfer, president of JSA, explained that the JSA’s fall symposium focuses on an educational theme and offers a more serious discussion than other programs. She said JSA wishes to provide outreach, advocacy and education services for all seniors, with the goal being “Seniors Stronger Together.” She then introduced the speakers and turned over the mic to O’Dea, who is a PhD candidate in gerontology at SFU. O’Dea’s interests are in social participation among older adults, particularly in volunteering and intergenerational activities; experiences among ethnocultural minority groups; and generativity. She has been a board member of JSA for three years.
The first speaker, Patille, conducts research focused on “intergenerational opportunities in bridging the gap between generations in Metro Vancouver.” She said she grew up having a lot of contact with her grandmother, and she believes that this fact led to her interest is this field. She defined intergenerational contact as a social benefit that facilitates mutual interaction and exchange between generations, and she discussed factors in society that have impeded such contact; for example, age segregation and geographic divisions among generations that lead to ageism.
Older adults living alone is the number one risk factor for isolation and loneliness, she said. These factors underline the need for connections through programming that will bring older adults into contact with other people, including other older adults. This can be accomplished through such things as home sharing, community programs, tutoring and art projects. These projects allow older adults to be part of the community through participation and mentoring, increasing the person’s feeling of self-worth. For some young people, this may be their first contact with older adults and can lead to reciprocity of social networks.
Patille spoke about generativity, which is the passing down and transfer of knowledge and information
between generations. She will also be looking at “voluntary kin”; that is, having younger members of society replace missing family for older adults.
The next speaker, Kim, focuses her research interests on integrated care, formal and informal caregiving, continuity of care and healthy aging. One of the difficulties for older adults is navigating complex community and healthcare systems. Two-thirds of older adults have health limitations and thus need a close connection with the healthcare system, she said. A geriatric care manager could be helpful in bridging gaps in services and helping to predict difficulties, she added. Many factors such as age, background or health issues, cannot be changed, but a care manager and caregivers could help with these situations.
The third speaker, Randa, is the project manager of the Public Health Agency of Canada-funded research project titled Dementia-Inclusive Streets and Community Access, Participation and Engagement (DEMSCAPE). The focus is on inclusion of those living with dementia in the
general community, as 70% live in their own homes. Planned inclusion in neighbourhood design is paramount in creating areas of accessibility, especially outdoor spaces, she said. Randa will be interviewing participants mostly in an outdoor setting to learn their feelings about public spaces with regard to safety and comfort. She is planning a documentary about these issues and the tools available to help, and DEMSCAPE is developing a design and planning guide to aid dementia patients in the community.
In the discussion that followed the presentations, someone noted that many countries are further ahead of Canada in a number of these areas raised. One of these is the availability of affordable home care, which would further facilitate aging in place. Jackie Weiler, a member of the JSA board and also a member of the Senior Advisory Committee for the City of Vancouver, mentioned the idea of a senior planner to promote accessibility.
Gyda Chud, chair of the program committee, brought the afternoon to a close with a quote from her 99-year-old mother, Gallia, expressing a hope for world peace, diversity, inclusion and social justice for all.
Shanie Levin is a Jewish Seniors Alliance Life Governor. She is also on the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.