Living in a community of peers provides emotional support and encourages people to participate in activities that improve physical, mental and psychological health. Common areas for meals and socializing are a great way to make new friends.
According to the World Health Organization (2003), social isolation and exclusion are associated with increased rates of premature death, lower general well-being, more depression and a higher level of disability from chronic disease.
Retired social worker in gerontology, Amica at Douglas House resident Doreen Burrows says, “one of the most negative things that you can do when you’re older is to disengage because as day follows night, what you don’t use, you lose.” It is necessary for older adults to participate in activities of their choice and try to avoid isolation, which, she says, “research has stated is as dangerous to our health as smoking.”
Born in Barbados, Doreen came to Canada at age 20 to finish her education. Today, at 85, she says, “I do my utmost to continue to participate in interests in my life. Congregate living, I found, met my needs after my husband’s death a year ago.” Although she and her husband had “a wonderful 57 years of marriage,” Doreen says, “I needed to redirect the little energy I had left to continue to participate with my friends.”
Doreen socializes at mealtimes and attends morning exercises when she feels well enough. “That’s my choice,” she says. A perpetual learner, she also attends Life Learning lectures, courses in history and the visiting University of Victoria lectures at the residence.
“We have a meditation group which I belong to. We have a wonderful art group,” she says, where residents can watch impressionists. “I really like travelogues and I like good movies. There’s a big screen in the lounge, and we have movies on Saturdays and Sundays; and usually on Tuesday night, we have a travelogue. Last night, I went to see Tuscany and the previous one was about Germany.”
An avid reader, Doreen belongs to three book clubs - one at Amica and two others that she was involved in before she came to the residence. “On reflection, I would say that as we’re older and health deteriorating to some degree, that no one can be independent. We’re interdependent.”
Communicating from her iPad, Berwick Royal Oak resident Nancy Douglas, mother of three and grandmother of nine, moved into resident living a year ago. Having been married to a naval officer, Nancy and her family moved from coast to coast and abroad until she and her husband retired at Qualicum Beach in 1972. Later, Nancy moved to Victoria before relocating to a retirement community. There, a variety of social activities are available each day for residents to participate in.
Nancy belongs to a book club and attends most social events. An avid reader, she says, “book clubs are a good way to talk about what I am currently reading. Other people’s views and criticisms make me more perceptive.”
There is also an opportunity to play cribbage, bingo and bridge. A bridge player for over 40 years, Nancy has “found [bridge] a great way to meet people.”
Every morning, except Sunday, there are three half-hour fitness classes at various levels and the Berwick bus regularly takes them to movies. “I really enjoy going to the theatre and concerts,” says Nancy. Residents also enjoy plays at their beautiful theatre, talks, lectures, parties and a theme dinner night once a month. The dining room is decorated, servers dress up, and appropriate food is served. In addition, there are two dining rooms, which “make it easy to have our own dinner parties and we don’t have to do the dishes,” she says.
As Nancy still drives, she continues the community activities she was involved in prior to moving to Berwick. In her suite, she often entertains with a drink before dinner and, when the weather is nice, joins others at the outside tables on the beautifully kept grounds.
Nancy finds the residence “a great place to spend your senior years.” “Don’t wait too long,” she says. “Do it when you are still in control of your life.”
Irene and Leslie Neat settled into The Peninsula at Norgarden two months ago. Originally from England, the couple came to Canada in 1957 and eventually established themselves in Alberta, where Leslie enjoyed a career in sales. Irene worked as an administrative assistant at the University of Calgary. Since moving to the Norgarden, the Neats have found countless activities available to them.
“There’s something going on all the time,” says Leslie. “They do trips out to malls and tours of the peninsula. They have indoor games like carpet bowling, dominoes. They have a sherry party every Monday before dinner. Happy Hours if you want to call it.”
“Every Tuesday night, they have a movie,” says Irene. “Last night we saw Iron Lady.”
Once a month, the residence caters a party for everyone who has a birthday that month including “live entertainment with cake and things like that,” says Leslie who celebrated his 92nd birthday in June. “Once a week, someone comes to entertain.”
“Everybody chats,” Irene says. “The staff is always ready for a good laugh.”
Irene enjoys the afternoon teas three times a week, where people can go and socialize and sit on the patio. “So it’s not just the two of us sitting at home any longer.”
Leslie also attends the “gentleman’s meeting once a month – just for men to come down and chat.” This is also an opportunity for new men to the residence to introduce themselves and meet the other gentlemen.
Both Irene and Leslie enjoy exercise classes with a personal trainer twice a week, and Leslie goes for a 40-60-minute walk as often as he can.
“Once you’ve moved, you’ve got peace of mind,” says Irene. “You’re not worried if you’ll need a new roof or how you will manage the gardening.”
“There is a little bit more of an adjustment for a man to become accustomed to,” says Leslie. As for Irene, she still does the laundry and the ironing, but “I don’t have to cook dinner anymore, which is wonderful!”
According to Helen Brown, Marketing Manager at Berwick Royal Oak, even couples admit that one or both was finding their social life diminishing. “At the retirement community, a myriad of activities are available to residents, whether it be enjoying a meal, or taking part in other community activities.” Helen remembers a chap who, after a week in the retirement community, overcome with emotion, came to her and said he felt he “had a life now” and “a reason for getting up in the morning.”
Social benefits of community living might simply be hearing and seeing other people, while enjoying the newspaper or reading a book in the library, conversing with peers on the latest news item, financial markets, or simply sharing experiences only their peers can appreciate, says Helen. Recreation programs help to nurture the whole individual through socialization, and physical, emotional, spiritual, vocational and intellectual programs. “There is an undeniable quality of life that extends years of enjoyment for our seniors living in retirement communities today.”
AUGUST 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE