Healthy Living in the North

Aging with dignity, respect and purpose

This is the last in a series of posts about social connections and healthy aging. You’ve got one week left to show us how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Three people posing for photo following a running race.

Supported by family in more ways than one, Holly’s recent marathon finish provided her with a chance to reflect on our aging journeys and the importance of supporting everyone to age with dignity, respect and purpose.

On a recent vacation back home, I was reminded of the impacts of aging in my own family.

I got to spend some time with my two remaining grandparents. They are now in their nineties (92 and 95, to be exact) and both of them continue to live in their own homes. Due to recent health issues, they have had to become more reliant on family and neighbours to help with tasks like putting out the garbage, gardening and rides to and from their many health care appointments. Both are strong women who have raised large families, and neither likes that they have to ask others for help. Seeing them, I was reminded of why social connections like the ones we’ve been talking about for the last month on this blog are so important to helping seniors age in place.

In a different generation, my father, a lifelong runner, just celebrated his 65th birthday and had planned on commemorating the event by running another marathon with myself and my siblings. However, after suffering a knee injury, he was told that running was no longer an option for him and he was not able to take part. Although my brother and I ran in his honour, I know that my dad was sad that he couldn’t run right along with us and participate in an activity which has been a part of his identity.

For me, the common threads that weave these experiences together are dignity, respect and purpose.

We leave school and charge into our early twenties looking for purpose. Seeking respect in our jobs, life, and from our family and friends. From that – and especially through our independence – we develop a sense of dignity or satisfaction that we have worth and value in the world.

However, as we age, those skills and abilities that we have worked so hard to grow start to slowly chip away. Our mobility may decrease. Our memories are no longer as sharp. Our roles and responsibilities as employees or parents may decrease. We spend our leisure time differently. In the later stages of aging, many of the tasks that many of us take for granted (driving, bathing, cooking our own meals, etc.) are often reassigned as well. We may start to question our purpose and our worth, our sense of self.

But just because someone has a wrinkle or two doesn’t mean that they don’t have worth, purpose, or dignity. And this very thought can have serious health impacts. The idea that older adults can’t or shouldn’t be given the same opportunities as others is referred to as ageism – “the most tolerated social prejudice in Canada.” Countering ageism – supporting everyone to age with dignity, respect and purpose – is key to keeping our communities and loved ones healthy.

We can do more to support people to age with dignity, respect and purpose. In health care, we’ve already made great advances in how we support seniors to live more independently, but what about in our own lives? Do you recognize the contributions of seniors in your community? Do you recruit and engage adults of all ages in planning and projects? Do you reach out to older adults who may be shy with a phone call or a visit?

Our previous healthy aging blog posts have talked about the significance of removing barriers to inclusion as people age. They’ve also highlighted the importance of bringing the generations together, whether within a family or a community to support the sharing of stories, skills and information. Volunteering our time and staying connected with social groups also give us meaningful work to do. Being included and having a role to play is a great way to show someone that they’re needed and valued – at any age.

“Being accorded dignity and respect as elders in the community contributes to preserving a sense of well-being, including the ability to share knowledge, having a purpose and feeling as though one is making a difference.” Let’s Talk about Healthy Aging and Seniors’ Wellness, Northern Health, 2013

So, as we all continue on our own aging journeys, let us be mindful of the ways in which we show value to those who have gone on ahead of us and gratefulness to those younger than us who have our backs. Sharing running stories and training advice with my dad was so valuable to me, and his purpose as a “runner” was served in a different way. However, sharing the experience with my brother (he is 16 years my junior) gave me new-found respect for the abilities of my aging body.


Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 4 is: “Show us how older adults volunteer in your community!” Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.

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