The National Framework in Action: Keeping Seniors Connected

The fastest growing age demographic is seniors. According to the World Health Organization, people aged 65 or older will outnumber those under 15 years of age by 2030. In West Vancouver this occurred in 2011 and now the region has one of the highest populations of seniors in British Columbia with 26% over the age of 65. With this reality, it is vital to keep the population active, engaged and participating. The District of West Vancouver’s innovative Keeping Connected family of programs supports elders to stay active in recreation with the supports they need.

In 2007, Keeping Connected started with 45 participants. In 2015, the program supported 500 participants, with new programs and waitlists. Keeping Connected participants have suffered a loss: the loss of cognition, loss of a driver's licence, a physical loss, or loss of a spouse. These setbacks can impact a participant and isolate them from the community. Keeping Connected breaks down barriers to participation by providing transportation, instruction, one-on-one support, snacks, and supports families with information and resources.

The programs focus on exercise, conversation and social connections and are specific to the losses seniors are experiencing. For example, an Active Games program is geared towards men in their 60's and 70's with an early diagnosis of dementia. The program meets their physical needs while stimulating conversation and fellowship over activities such as bocce, board games and shared jokes. Another example is the Ladies Social Club for women with moderate physical and/or cognition impairment. These women are experiencing loss and enjoy meeting old and new friends each week to support them in their pursuit to continue to live independently with purpose.

In 2015, Keeping Connected launched two new programs – Creative Expressions and Dance for Parkinson’s.

Creative Expression is a program offered in partnership with the Society for Arts in Dementia Care. Research says that people engaged in creative arts can add years to life, increase memory or help postpone memory loss. The program is designed to stimulate memories to create conversations while participants engage in art projects through a variety of mediums. What makes this program so unique is the Creative Expression Tool designed by Dr. Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka. The tool monitors and observes participants daily to show the impact of the program on the individual's memory, attention, language, psychosocial functioning, reasoning/problem solving, emotions and culture.

The second new program is Dance for Parkinson's which was developed in New York by the Mark Morris Dance Group. Dance for Parkinson's allows people with Parkinson's to experience the joys and benefits of dance while creatively addressing symptom-specific concerns related to balance, cognition, motor skill, depression and physical confidence. This program is offered in partnership with the Simon Fraser University Dance program.

The Keeping Connected Family of Programs now has 17 weekly programs that cater to vulnerable seniors. The programs are offered by the West Vancouver Seniors' Activity Centre but are funded by community support, Vancouver Coastal Health, West Vancouver Secondary School (grade 12 students fundraise and donate $2000) and grants and foundations. In an effort to keep the drop-in fee at $4.25, the Friends of the Centre fundraises $81,000 each year to fund the programs and the transportation for participants to get there. The Keeping Connected programs are built on the premise of multiple partnerships to enhance the programs and offerings to the elders. Partners include: Vancouver Coastal Health, Geriatric Outreach Team and the Older Adult Mental Health team, Simon Fraser University Gerontology department, local community churches, West Vancouver School Board, Private Residential Care facilities, local service clubs, and other community agencies.

Current research states that people who are more socially active and engaged in their communities are healthier and happier. Also, the number-one predictor of longevity, according to the study done by Health Canada in 2006, is social support (family, friends and loved ones). Keeping members participating with friends, in a familiar setting in a supportive environment is vital for our elders to age independently with a high quality of life. With the support of the community, West Vancouver Seniors' Activity Centre strives to do this each day.

AUTHOR: Jill Lawlor is a Community Recreation Manager with the District of West Vancouver. Jill has spent the last 20 years in the field creating innovations in summer camp, aquatics and recreation. As a mother of four children and the daughter of active aging parents, Jill understands the importance of recreation for the young and the young at heart and works each day to break down barriers to participation and make a difference!

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