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The International Day of Happiness is celebrated worldwide on March 20. This special day recognizes happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations for all people.
What do scientists have to say about what makes older adults happy and contributes to their well-being?
Paradox of successful aging
Researchers have found that seniors in their 80s and 90s, and older adults generally, report higher levels of contentment and well-being than teenagers and young adults, according to the New York Times. Gerontologists call this the paradox of old age. Older people who have lived through and coped with many challenges and losses in their lives are resilient. Even though older adults may be experiencing declines in their physical or cognitive abilities, they feel better about their lives rather than worse, compared to younger adults.
Pathways to happy lives
1. Focus on abilities. Older adults who focus on what they can do and find rewarding, rather than any decline in abilities, are happier. According to a study in TheGerontologist,accepting aging and adapting to age-related changes is vital to successful aging and well-being.
3. Be actively engaged in life. Active engagement in life through physical, mental and social activities is a key component of successful aging and life satisfaction, according to researchers from Toronto’s York University. Their study found that physically active Canadian older adults, for example, were more than twice as likely to successfully age and maintain optimal health and well-being.
4. Accentuate the positive. As people get older, they become better at regulating their emotional health, and looking at experiences and challenges with a positive attitude, according to Stanford Center on Longevity study. In memory tests, older adults recalled more positive images than negative images than younger adults. When shown photos of people smiling or scowling, older adults also recalled the smiling faces more quickly.
6. Learn each day. Ongoing, lifelong learning boosts the life satisfaction and happiness of older adults, while also improving their physical and mental health, according to a University of Manitoba study.
When I ask people whom they think will help them when they get older, without hesitation most answer “my children.” It’s true that adult children are often a notable source of support as people age. And—if a person has adult children who haven’t always gotten along—they may tell me they know their kids will be able to work together when it matters, including to help with their care or to harmoniously manage the settling of their estate.
Similarly, adult children often have assumptions and expectations for their older parents. Some of these may include: that their parents will want to spend as much time as possible with their grandchildren and will want to babysit when they go back to work; that their parents will want to move in with them as they get older; or, conversely, that their parents will never consider leaving the home they raised them in.
In today’s world, some of the realities for adult children include: working in other countries and not being present to provide the help needed to their parents; adult children who are pulled between competing responsibilities of parenthood, full-time work and helping their parents; and siblings who don’t get along with each other and can’t work together on their parents’ behalf. In addition, people are often shocked that their children have different values from each other. I have frequently heard parents or adult children themselves say, “We were raised in the same house, how could we look at this matter so differently or feel so differently about how to approach it?”
For older adults, the realities in today’s world include people who have active, busy lives with their own dreams and ideas of how they want to spend their time—and this may or may not include a significant amount of time with grandchildren. I have heard people say, “I love my grandkids and value my time with them, but I raised my kids and now want the freedom to do other things”. In addition, most older adults I have known have stated they would prefer not to move in with their children if they needed additional help. It’s important to add that the vision of the older person who refuses to leave the family home is becoming less common as well. Many people recognize that the home they are in now may not be the best one for their current life stage and are open to considering other options.
What is the solution for overcoming the assumptions and expectations that may interfere with our family relationships? The answer is essential conversations with our family members. However, prior to talking with anyone else, we need to think about what we want, what we are willing to do and not do, and what matters to us.
Next, we need to have open and honest conversations. If you are the older adult, you can share with your family what you want as you age, and what you are hoping for from each family member. Then ask them if this is realistic for them. Similarly, if you are the adult child, you can talk to your parents about the relationship you would like with them as they get older, the ways you might assist them, and how you’d like them to be involved in your life. And, again, you can ask how that fits with their vision for their life. These conversations will evolve over time as the realities in everyone’s lives shift and change.
It may seem quite foreign to talk openly about these issues. Yet, the rewards are priceless. Most problems that I have observed in the over 30 years I’ve worked with families were caused by not talking openly, and by assumptions and expectations that were never checked out. The disappointments and hurts I’ve witnessed—many that reverberate for generations—usually could have been avoided with self-reflection and open conversation with other family members.
Here is to better understanding and harmony across the generations—and to the essential conversations that will help get you there!
About Dr. Amy D’Aprix
Dr. Amy is a certified senior advisor, Vice President of the International Federation on Aging, and Co-Founder of the Essential Conversations Project. As a gerontological social worker, she has over thirty years of experience working with older adults and their families.
Canadian researchers are harnessing the power of new technologies to develop innovative and practical solutions for healthy aging. The researchers work closely with industry, governments, health non-profits, older adults and caregivers to test assistive technologies to meet real-world needs.
Here are 7 new tools being developed to enhance quality of life for older adults and caregivers:
1. Look after your back.PostureCoach, a wearable sensor system developed by Toronto Rehabilitation Institute researchers, teaches caregivers how to adjust their posture while helping loved ones carry out their daily needs. It gives caregivers real-time feedback through a vibration or audio signal when they are in a posture that could increase back injury risk.
2. Prevent falls. Simon Fraser University (SFU) researchers are developing a new set of tools, called PRED-Fall, which use wearable sensors and video capture technology to predict, prevent and detect falls among older adults at high risk in long term care homes and hospitals.
3. Strengthen the brain with social games. An SFU researcher has developed digital games and quizzes, such as an online escape room game, that involves two players collaborating to solve the puzzle and escape. The games are designed to enhance social connectedness and encourage lifelong learning among older adults.
4. Steady tremors. Steadiwear, a University of Toronto start-up, developed a specially-designed smart glove that uses vibration-dampening technology to stabilize the hands of people with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor.
5. Avoid mobility obstacles. Braze Mobility Inc. of Toronto has developed obstacle-detection sensors for wheelchairs that automatically alert the user to obstacles. The sensors provide visual, audio or vibration feedback to help the driver avoid collisions.
6. Monitor health from the couch. Researchers at Toronto’s University Health Network are embedding sensors in a sofa to take an electrocardiogram while the person sits there. Sensors in floor tiles can measure blood pressure as a person walks around their home. Regular monitoring of vital signs could help doctors more meaningfully assess changes in a person’s health during doctors’ visits, say the researchers.
7. Analyze speech to assess brain health. A new tablet-based assessment tool that records short samples of a person’s speech as they describe a picture can detect Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease in under five minutes, according to Winterlight Labs and University of Toronto researchers. The tool uses artificial intelligence to analyze about 400 speech variables. It could be used to monitor cognitive health and changes, and help families plan for appropriate levels of care.
You don’t have to look hard for artistic talent at Chartwell Deerview Crossing Retirement Residence. In fact, walking through the front door, inspiring artwork is mere steps away. Four of resident Helen’s beautiful watercolour paintings decorate a dedicated wall on the ground floor, an honour given to her by the residence to celebrate her exceptional ability. But Helen is as prolific as she is talented, and these four pieces represent the tip of the iceberg.
“I couldn’t tell you how many I’ve finished,” laughs Helen, who has been painting for nearly 50 years. “I’ve lost count.”
With so much to showcase, her retirement residence opted to keep Helen’s wall running year-round, swapping out paintings every three months. Helen, who has been at the community since October of last year, was thrilled when she was asked about showcasing her work.
“I was stunned. It’s a wonderful opportunity. There’s only so much space on my walls, after all.”
Helen lived in Oshawa for most of her life, picking up a brush for the first time shortly after her son and daughter entered adolescence. With no formal training aside from a few workshops, she broadened her skills, experimenting with a variety of styles and mediums, eventually landing on her favourite: watercolour. She had great success, with several of her pieces appearing in art shows and being chosen for awards at juried exhibitions.
“I prefer watercolour,” says Helen, “but it can be tricky. The paint sometimes moves in ways you aren’t expecting, but that can often work to your advantage.”
One technique Helen has utilized is “negative” painting, which focuses on painting a darker background around lighter objects, creating more depth and dimension with each layer of colour. The result can imbue a piece with striking complexity and beauty.
“An American artist by the name of Sterling Edwards introduced me to the technique,” explains Helen. “I took a workshop with him, and his art was a real inspiration. He works very loosely, kind of semi-abstract. He taught me to focus on painting the spaces in between as opposed to the subject.”
Helen says there isn’t any secret to working with watercolour. Like anything, it takes time, patience and the courage to make mistakes.
“You have to be willing to waste a lot of paper!” Helen chuckles. “Mistakes are bound to happen, but don’t think of any attempt as a failure. Look at it as an opportunity to improve your technique. Happy accidents happen more often than you think.”
Since making the move to Chartwell Deerview Crossing, Helen has decided to pack up her brushes for good, opting to focus on other creative endeavours. And though she doesn’t plan to continue painting anytime soon, she’s certainly proud of her accomplishments.
“I donated my supplies to a good friend back in Oshawa. My creative interests have changed, I suppose. Knitting is my current obsession. Still, I’m so happy that my fellow residents can enjoy the art that I had so much fun creating.”
Helen lives life to its fullest, and she’s quite content to be a part of the lively community at Chartwell Deerview Crossing. Her personal motto is one that reminds us that life is fleeting, so it’s better to enjoy it while we’re here.
“Life’s short, so eat dessert first! That certainly applies to the way I live my life here at Chartwell Deerview Crossing. I can do what I want, when I want, and that’s the way I like it!”
Longevity Blue Zones is an anthropological concept that describes the characteristics and environments of the world’s healthiest and longest-lived people. The concept grew out of demographic research done by Italian physician Gianni Pes and Belgian demographer Michel Poulain, first published in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology. The two researchers identified a cluster of villages in Sardinia where an amazing proportion of men reached the age of 100.
In research funded by National Geographic, Poulain and journalist Dan Buettner then identified four other places in the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Costa Rica’s Nicoya peninsula; Ikaria island in Greece; and Loma Linda, California. They found that people in all these Blue Zone areas shared nine specific lifestyle traits that contributed to their good health and longevity
You don’t have to live in a village or any of those places to apply some of these lifestyle habits and reap their rich benefits in your life:
1) Move naturally. People in blue zones build physical activity into their daily lives naturally by walking, gardening and doing physical tasks throughout the day.
2) Live with purpose. Volunteering offers vital help to people in need and provides a sense of purpose that can improve your health and happiness.
3) Relax. Stress is part of life. People who live to 100, however, build stress-relieving rituals into their daily routines.
4) Apply the 80% rule. Don’t overindulge in food. Stop eating when your stomach is 80% full. To cut 20% of your calories, eat from a smaller plate.
5) Put plants first in your diet. Sardinians enjoy a variation of the Mediterranean Diet, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, goat’s milk, and olive oils. Meat is consumed on special occasions.
6) Drink water, sip wine. Long-lived people drink plenty of water and enjoy a glass of wine with a light dinner.
7) Nurture your spirit. Most centenarians that researchers talked to belonged to a faith-based community. Practicing meditation or yoga is another way to shut down mind chatter and get in touch with your spiritual side.
8) Lean on loved ones. Close family ties across generations leads to children, grandchildren and extended family honouring and supporting older adults throughout their lives.
9) Build strong social networks. Keep old friends and make new ones. Participating regularly in social activities protects against the harmful physical and emotional consequences of social isolation.
When posed with the question, How would you describe your life at your retirement residence?, Violet exclaims, “It’s anything but boring!” Having lived at her Chartwell residence for almost nine years now, she can certainly attest to what the lifestyle in a retirement community looks and feels like.
Following the passing of her husband, Violet lived alone in an apartment for almost three years. “Those were some of the loneliest years of my life. I found myself feeling afraid often,” she says. It was following a conversation with one of her sons that she decided to do something about it. “I told him I didn’t want to be by myself anymore.” Though both of her sons offered to move Violet in with them, she decided against the option. “They and their wives work full time—I’d still be spending the majority of my days on my own and I wanted more of a social life than that.” After deciding she wanted to explore retirement living, Violet’s sons went on a personal visit to Chartwell and immediately thought they’d found a place she’d be happy to call home.
“It was the funniest thing, I felt at home right off the bat,” Violet tells, considering herself lucky to have transitioned into the lifestyle so seamlessly. “I think I was more than ready for the change. It helped that the staff and residents were very welcoming and friendly. When I laid my head on my pillow that night, it was the first time in a while I had slept through the night without feeling afraid. It was the best feeling.”
With the peace of mind that someone was always there if she needed them, Violet was quick to take advantage of all the convenient services at her residence, including the dining experience and all the entertainment on offer. “I’d spent so many years of my life as a wife, a mother and working a full-time job,” Violet reminisces. “When I moved in, I no longer had any worries or obligations. I’m not lonesome or bored—I feel free.”
So since moving in, how does Violet spend her days?
“I like a good sleep-in in the morning,” Violet chuckles. “But some of my friends sleep in even longer than I do, so I don’t feel so bad.” After waking at a leisurely time, Violet gets ready and goes down to the residence’s bistro, where she pours herself a cup of tea and picks up a muffin—one of the many snacks available to individuals who prefer a more casual breakfast outside the dining room. “There are always people down there, so we end up chatting together for a while.”
After a light breakfast, Violet—who admits she is very active at her residence and chooses to participate in almost everything—joins her first activity of the day. “There’s usually some kind of intellectual activity in the morning. I like the jumbo crosswords.”
Lunchtime in the dining room is something Violet looks forward too, and not just because she’s a fan of the food. “I sit with the same ladies at lunch each day and we love to catch up together,” she laughs. “We even know each other’s family now!”
Following a hearty lunch, Violet usually elects to take an afternoon nap—but she insists if there’s anything going on at the residence that her Lifestyle and Program Manager give her a call and wake her up! “I don’t like to miss anything,” she admits. “Especially not Bingo, it’s my favourite because the winner gets chocolate bars and I can’t get enough of my chocolate!” Other preferred activities include crafts, painting, baking, weekly exercise classes, current events meetings and religious services. “I also look forward to Happy Hour on Fridays; there’s musical entertainment, and sometimes my son will join me for a beer,” Violet adds. “I stick to Coca-Cola though. I know what I like.”
Before dinner, Violet indulges in another daily routine she cherishes—a cookie and hot chocolate back in the bistro. “Did I mention I love my chocolate?” she teases. “I’m always looking for a reason to chat with everybody. Sometimes we do ice creams socials or staff have the popcorn machine going.”
Violet enjoys when someone is playing on the residence’s piano during the dinner hour, finding it very relaxing. After a delicious dinner that might include a second helping of chocolate pudding, she wraps up a busy day and heads to her suite to put her feet up and watch some television before bed.
Though Violet admits she sticks to a pretty typical routine each day, she sometimes goes out for a bite to eat with family, and loves to be outdoors during the summer months. “We do the occasional barbecue and campfire out back. It’s so lush in our neighbourhood,” she says. “We have a gentleman here who goes for a walk around the block every day to keep fit. He’s over 100!”
After sharing the details of a typical day in her life at Chartwell, Violet concludes by saying, “This is the home I wish I’d had a long time ago. I’d recommend it to anybody. With nothing to worry about and no responsibilities, I’m just enjoying me now.”
The sounds of a marching band stir memories in many of us – from standing on the sidelines at a St. Patrick’s Day parade to touring a historic fortress on a family vacation – but for one Chartwell resident, the sounds and rhythm have a much deeper meaning. For ninety-one-year-old Lloyd Sullivan of Chartwell Wynfield Long Term Care in Oshawa, Ontario, marching bands are a powerful link to his past as a member of Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.
A few months shy of his 18th birthday, Lloyd tried to enlist as a soldier in World War II but was only accepted into the Reserves because he was underage. He trained as a marksman at Camp Borden, near Barrie, Ontario, and at Moss Park Armoury in Toronto. As a member of the Queen’s Own Rifles, Lloyd marched with military bands in parades, forming a lifelong affinity for the music and memories of that period in his life. Later on, he continued to find great pleasure in watching Military Tattoos and military bands perform.
Life took Lloyd on another course when he accepted an apprenticeship as a plumber – steam fitter, later moving to Amsterdam for few years before returning to Buckhorn, Ontario, where he continued his trade. Upon meeting his wife, Ruth, Lloyd became the loving, caring father to her three children. Although he officially retired from his profession in 1984, Lloyd never stopped doing plumbing jobs for family and friends.
With pure love in her heart and knowing what joy military music brought to Lloyd throughout his life, his daughter, Cindy, nominated him for a Wish of a Lifetime Canada – to witness a live drum band performance one more time, with his family by his side. Enlisting the support of Chartwell Wynfield’s Administrator, Sharol Henry, with the help of Program and Support Services Manager, Ashley Ferraccioli, and other dedicated staff, a plan was put in place to make Lloyd’s wish come true. For health reasons, Lloyd was unable to travel, so alternate arrangements were made – the Royal Regiment Band of Canada would come to him! Coordinating the schedules of a 16-piece military band was no small feat but thanks to all concerned, everything came together on a memorable December afternoon. Lloyd and his family had the opportunity to meet the band and were acknowledged by them during their performance. For a few joyful hours on a winter day, a room full of smiling faces and a lot of gratitude accompanied the colourful, rhythmic music of the Royal Regiment Band of Canada.
Nearly two-thirds of Canadians over 65 take five or more prescription drugs, and over 25% use 10 prescriptions or more, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). About 32% of Canadians from 75 to 84 and 40% of those 85 and over take 10 or more drugs.
While most of these drug prescriptions are intended to treat and manage the chronic health conditions that affect many older adults, there is a tendency to overmedicate and leave people on drugs too long, according to The Globe and Mail. A growing body of research shows that polypharmacy – the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by one patient – can lead to many adverse side effects and unexpected interactions, says Canada Safety Council. An additional problem with overmedicating is that seniors process medications more slowly and it often takes drugs longer to clear their systems, increasing the risk of adverse drug reactions.
To help manage chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, you need to take your medication as prescribed, according to Canada Safety Council. A pill organizer is one of the best ways to help you take the right pills in the right amount at the right time, says CSC. Most pharmacies will set up a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly blister pack, which makes it easer and safer to manage your medications.
Gina and Giuseppe’s story is one right from the pages of a romance novel. They met in Italy back in 1943, both of them young and full of aspirations. Giuseppe’s father, who owned land, sold a portion of it Gina’s father, who specialized in making wine. It was this fateful transaction that led to Gina and Giuseppe meeting, and in that moment, love was most certainly in the air.
But love during the 1940’s in Italy was tricky business. The idea of dating was a foreign concept to most, and so Giuseppe had to get creative to court his special lady. The two met in secret on the plantation with a chaperone on hand, Giuseppe always making sure to bring Gina the freshest fruits and figs from his father’s land to impress her. After a year of meeting, the two lovebirds decided to elope, regardless of the backlash they may have received from their families.
Gina and Giuseppe were wed in a private ceremony by a local priest, behind a church door. Though the ceremony was perfectly legal, they decided to have a second public ceremony to celebrate with their families, and for the better half of a century, Gina and Giuseppe have stayed by each other’s side through thick and thin.
Today, this happy couple enjoys a wonderful life at Chartwell Valley Vista, where they often reflect on their life together. It’s a life that’s brought them fulfilment, happiness, tears, and everything in between. They succeeded in raising three wonderful children who know that it was the undying commitment that their parents shared which gave them the opportunity to become who they are today.
And what advice do Gina and Giuseppe give to future generations looking to find a love as strong as theirs? It’s simple, really. Life has its ups and downs, but love always finds a way to prevail.
“In this life, every rose has a thorn. You have to accept the good with the bad. Just remember that the bad will always pass and life will always go on.”
‘Tis the season of showing loved ones how much we care—including those companions that come with four legs, two wings or even a few scales. For many older adults, pets are the love of their life—right up there with spouses, family and friends.
Beyond the fact that our pets provide wonderful, unconditional love, numerous studies have shown the positive psychological and physical benefits that creature friends bring us. For older adults, that includes a positive boost to mood, self-worth and a sense of purpose in caring for another living thing.
Dogs (and some renegade cats) also allow seniors to stay connected by getting them out to meet others and engaging in conversations sparked by the presence of a four-legged friend. The daily demands of taking a dog for a walk mean better overall health for retirees, including reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Many may assume that a move to a retirement residence will amount to them having to give up their pet, but that couldn’t be more wrong! There are numerous senior communities that now welcome dogs, cats, birds, small rodents, reptiles and fish. There are even some residences that offer pet-washing and grooming stations!
For seniors on the move, a pet can make the transition to a new retirement community easier and more comfortable, offering companionship and a sense of routine at a time of change. Residents with pets often find themselves instantly popular, as their furry companions make great conversation starters.
If you currently have a pet and are considering a move to a seniors’ residence, here are some questions to ask on your visit:
What are the (written) rules regarding pet ownership? Are there weight, size or other restrictions on the species and number of pets?
Is your suite large enough for your pet?
Is there green space and a safe, well-lit path to walk your dog?
Is there a designated area for dogs to do their business?
Some residences may require a pet management plan, which could include designating a back-up pet sitter, and proof of vaccinations. If your dog is a barker, it may be time to think about behaviour modification training to mitigate the problem before moving in.
Even if you don’t have a pet, many seniors’ residences offer weekly pet visits or pet therapy sessions so that non-owners can enjoy a little cuddle or an adoring gaze from their four-legged visitors.
If you’re thinking about moving to a pet-friendly senior community, where you can also enjoy conveniences like dining options, housekeeping, onsite activities and outings, and the availability of personal support as your needs change, call 1-855-461-0685 today to learn more about retirement living at Chartwell.
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