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February 17, 2013

Seniors are us

The Canadian Charger

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After interviewing seniors in the Waterloo region, over the last three years, University of Waterloo School of Planning professor John Lewis said their major concern is the affordability of some recreational programs, followed by housing and housing affordability.

He added that while there is some concern about accessibility to some sidewalks and streets, seniors for the most part are satisfied with what they can access.

“Many seniors, faced with trying to make ends meet on a fixed income, while their health and often their mobility is in decline, feel that our cities have been designed for younger people, with the needs of seniors becoming secondary,   he added.

Dr. Lewis said that seniors may find their living accommodations are too far removed from social, retail or recreational venues. And finding affordable housing closer to amenities is difficult, considering many seniors are on a fixed income.

Along with physical proximity, Dr. Lewis said seniors often express a desire for inter-generational experience, but the opportunities are not as readily available as they would like.

“They don't just want to be with themselves. They want to be with other people in the community, to impart their experiences on others and learn from others.”

He cited a recent CBC radio show entitled Tapestry that focused on learning from seniors and the fact that many seniors are isolated.

Dr. Lewis said reading clubs, dance clubs, crafts clubs and movie clubs are programs which can help seniors socialize with other seniors in the community. While acknowledging that these programs are beneficial in helping seniors avoid the loneliness that comes with isolation, Dr. Lewis said seniors find limited opportunities to mingle with people in the community outside their own age group.

“We have mentoring programs in public and secondary schools, where seniors read to small children, but seldom to older children. Veterans come and talk to students on Remembrance Day, but these types of events are usually only once or twice a year.”

Drawing on the considerable work he has done with First Nations communities in British Columbia, Dr. Lewis noted a cultural difference that our society can learn from.

“In the work I've done with First Nations in B.C., I noticed that the elders are very much a part of the community. For life problems or major decisions, they're consulted. We don't do that. It's a lost resource.”

Currently, Dr. Lewis is working with the Ontario Seniors Secretariat to develop province-wide guidelines for the development of age-friendly assessments and policies. However, he stresses that there is not a single set of tools or standards to suit every municipality.

“There are huge diversities. There are small cities, First Nations communities, large cities and small towns. We're creating a set of tools, by doing the research and the leg work to find the questions that need answering.”

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