Why Community Is Important As We Age
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
As we get older and choose to move from the family home, there can be apprehension about a change in lifestyle, the loss of familiarity, the loss of autonomy.
While such a change can be unsettling, a move to a United Active Living community is a positive step, a chance to make new friends and to broaden our community.
“This is a huge transition for people who move into a community. Many of them have lived in their own home for a very long time and this is something very different for them,” noted Dianne McDermid, quality coordinator, United Active Living. “As a person ages, the risk of becoming isolated increases. Family moves away and there could be mobility issues that keep a person away from social events. United Active Living communities remove the isolation, and residents are happier for it.”
Becoming part of a larger group may lead some people to think that they will lose their autonomy – their individuality – when they move into a community. But experience has found that the reverse is true; they increase their autonomy because they have more time to pursue individual interests, which are supported by a community of friends.
“When you walk in, you feel the spirit of the place. There’s a good feeling here,” said resident Joyce Doolittle, who wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her time after she retired. “You have a chance to develop aspects of yourself that you couldn’t before because you have more time,” she said.
Resident Betty Earle echoes that sentiment. “The best thing I think here is how much laughter there is, and laughing helps you get on with your life.”
Partnering With a Wider Community
United Active Living believes that living in an older adult community shouldn’t be restrictive. The community should extend beyond the four walls to include organizations and groups such as Mount Royal University in the case of the Garrison Green community, and St. Mary’s University in the case of United Active Living’s newest community, Fish Creek.
“The whole idea of positive aging is to be able to give residents the opportunity to continue to grow and to learn, as well as to be part of a community that’s inclusive and sees them as a valuable contributor to the community,” said Elaine Danelesko, interim director – conservatory, Faculty of Continuing Education and Extension, Mount Royal University in Calgary.
Mount Royal University works closely with United Active Living, and regularly provides professors to visit residents to conduct roundtables on politics, current affairs, music and other topics.
Recently, students majoring in English worked with the residents in a Writers-in-Residence program that encouraged residents to share their stories. And the Conservatory at Mount Royal University regularly hosts the residents for musical events, and encourages residents to take up an instrument.
A Close Community is a Healthy Community
According to research, frequent social activity may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline in old age.
“Older adults who are the most socially engaged have a reduced likelihood of developing memory problems, whereas those who are the least integrated decline much more rapidly,” said Dr. Rob Winningham in an article published by the International Council on Active Aging in their Journal on Active Aging. “Loneliness is a risk factor for developing dementia. On the other hand, people who perceive their social support networks as being better than average are less likely to develop memory problems.”
Research has found that someone who is engaged socially has 43 percent less disability and about half the rate of cognitive decline. The social component is just one of several factors that can influence memory decline. Dr. Winningham notes: “To maintain or even improve memory ability in older adulthood, we need to use a holistic approach that includes factors such as cognitive exercise, physical exercise, proper nutrition, adequate social engagement, healthy sleep habits, and reduced stress. By themselves, any one of the factors has a modest effect on memory ability. But when these factors are combined, the effect is significant.”
An example of the community that has developed at Garrison Green can be expressed by Charlotte Richel, whose mother recently turned 102. Garrison Green hosted a party for her. “The lovely part of that day was the number of people that came and wished her happy birthday and brought her a card. It is a community of seniors, each looking out for each other and you get a really warm, good feeling there.”
“You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” – Walt Disney
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