Serving Greater Vancouver & the Fraser Valley
Union Gospel Mission

The senior journey

By Lilianne Fuller

Life expectancy in Canada is on the increase. According to Statistics Canada, 20 years ago Canadians had an average life span of 78 years. Today it’s 83. More and more seniors are reaching age 90 and beyond. This has led to society having three categories of seniors;  youthful, middle aged and the true elders.

The second category, middle-aged seniors are individuals between the ages of 71 and 80. Slightly less active than the youthful senior, they continue to lead vibrant, busy lives.

Many seniors in their 60’s became babysitters and as their grandchildren grew up their role changed. Their new role has become more of being a trusted friend. For example, Nona and her grandchildren enjoy a close relationship and there is a strong level of trust. Nona credits this to the many hours she spent doing daycare. “I think because of our closeness, we can talk about the hard issues facing kids today,” she says.

Some middle-aged seniors have embraced full retirement and are travelling the world. Tom Tomlin and his wife Joan are two such seniors. In the past ten years they have travelled extensively. Ironically, while working as a Pilot and Air Traffic Controller Tom didn’t care much for travel, but after they retired, exotic destinations beckoned. Today, the couple have seen most of the world and these days are contemplating international train travel.

While the Tomlins have remained relatively healthy, another couple was not so lucky. Three years ago, Wendy Moore developed an unexplained illness. This sidelined the couple’s travel plans because walking even a short distance left her breathless. Numerous tests were conducted but nothing could be found to explain her symptoms. Fortunately, as unexpectedly as the illness came on, it subsided and Wendy has regained a better state of health. Wendy and husband Ron are again making travel plans and a Panama Canal cruise may be in the offing.

If travel plans are in your future, finding the right travel agent is vital. That person should take into consideration your age and interests and be able to assist you to make the right travel decisions. If your mobility has decreased, it shouldn’t be a reason not to travel. Cruise lines and airlines are geared to people who need assistance. Tammy Landry, a local travel agent recommends river cruising if mobility is an issue. “The ships are smaller, they have wonderful views for the entire sailing and the average age on these cruises tend to be over 55,” she says. “Airlines and Cruise lines are happy to help out but they need to know ahead of time if wheelchair assistance is required,” she adds.

To maintain an active lifestyle, keeping fit is an important factor. Every Monday and Thursday morning Dianna Genovese dons her fitness clothing and heads over to the Brookswood Senior Centre. When she arrives, she’s met by the sound of laughter and upbeat Latino music. It’s time for Zumba Gold! While regular Zumba is an easy to follow dance fitness class. Zumba Gold is designed for seniors and it recreates the original moves at a lower-intensity but still provides a good cardiovascular workout. Maria Hillmer has been teaching Zumba Gold at Brookswood for four years and the median age group of her class is 73. When asked if a 70ish senior could try Zumba Gold she says, “I would advise them to have fun but to get permission from their doctor before they start.”

On the downside, a looming issue for the middle-aged senior is loneliness. Perhaps a spouse has died and there is a feeling of being disconnected. In this case, volunteer work may be a solution. Mary Keller, a life-long volunteer, considers volunteering a good way to avoid loneliness. “It has been my experience that as we age, it is much harder to break into a group of friends. When you volunteer you are working alongside others of similar mind and attitude so bonds tend to form in that atmosphere,” she says.

Not all seniors, however, will experience good health throughout their lifetimes. Some develop health problems that make it impossible to live at home. Some seniors move to a campus of care, a planned community providing a range of housing options and services within a single community. Most are geared to a range of needs; retirement living, supported living, assisted living, and continuing care needs.

In the Lower Mainland there are more than a dozen campuses of care. There is a strong focus on the holistic needs of the seniors who live there. Bright and cheerful, with caring staff, you can see these are very special places dedicated to the people they serve.

While it’s good news that Canada’s life expectancy will continue to rise, it’s even better news that today’s seniors are not only living longer, they are living life to the fullest.

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