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Study: What Older Canadians Want From Country Life

 

Social connections, an active lifestyle and an optimistic outlook. These are the factors that rural older Canadians say are important for healthy aging in place.

The importance of understanding rural seniors’ perspectives cannot be overstated, according to Juanita Bacsu, a PhD candidate in the department of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. "To date, initiatives to support healthy aging in place have focused primarily on the views of policy makers, researchers and health professionals," wrote Bacsu, the lead author of a recent study.

The research is part of a larger three-year study examining rural older people’s understandings of healthy aging. This segment focused on the views of residents of Watrous and Wolseley, two rural communities in Saskatchewan.

The research team reported their findings online in Educational Gerontology on Oct. 25, 2013.

Social connectedness

The participants stressed the importance of interacting socially with friends, neighbours and family. They mentioned going for coffee and taking exercise classes with people of similar age. "When you’re with friends, you’re with people who care," remarked one participant.

The findings revealed younger neighbours often assisted older residents with outdoor work in exchange for baked goods or a meal. Many older adults were interested in getting to know the younger generation better.

The participants also valued family ties, "My family is very caring," one woman said. "Yeah, they come over and do things, we always get together."

Another noted, "Now we’re older . . . there’s probably nothing we enjoy more than being in a family gathering or barbecue, and watching the kids play, and so on."

Many touted the value of using the Internet and telephone to nurture close relationships. That said, these older adults did not welcome unsolicited family advice. They wanted the freedom to make their own decisions.

Finally, older residents emphasized the importance of mobility in fostering social interaction. They talked about being able to drive a car or use a scooter, and the need to for the town to ensure safe ramps and sidewalks.

Active lifestyle

For many, healthy aging meant being able to engage in a variety of community activities, including volunteering.

The study found residents participated in a range of options including:

  • crafts
  • physical activity
  • gardening
  • music
  • reading
  • pet companionship
  • card tournaments, and
  • bowling.

The local seniors’ centre and churches provided most of the activites.

Some older adults worked as part-time entrepreneurs. "Like, I keep this little business I have because it keeps me active and gives me something to do," one man said.

The study found that loss of independence was the biggest single concern of older people. As one participant put it, "Like I said, being able to do what I want to do, my biggest fear is ever having a stroke."

Others identified cognitive health as a crucial component of healthy aging. "That’s the most important thing, keeping your mind sharp," noted one participant. Participants tried to maintain cognitive health through good nutrition, exercise and regular reading.

Meanwhile, older adults stressed the importance of community involvement, noting individuals must take the initiative and not expect others to entertain them.

Optimistic outlook

Many participants viewed a positive mental outlook as key to healthy aging.

One man, for instance, talked about his 97-year-old father, who maintained a good sense of humour in old age. "I think healthy aging is probably being able to accept your situation," he observed.

Others touted a youthful spirit. "I don’t act like I am an old lady. I like to keep, stay young as long as I can," said one woman.

Another remarked, "I think you do what you feel capable of doing and I think that helps you age well."

Participants said support services were essential to maintain a positive outlook when faced with caring for a spouse in poor health.

Many stressed the need for health services, such as respite, long term care facilities and grief counseling, following the loss of a loved one.