In early March, nearly 400 people from across Canada, the United States and as far away as Japan converged on the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Centre in Niagara Falls for Walk With Me: Changing the Culture of Aging in Canada, hosted by the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) and Alberta’s CapitalCare Foundation.
Schlegel Villages was proud to send nearly 40 delegates to this third incarnation of the conference, including four residents who each offered their own views on the nature of Culture Change through initiatives they’ve been part of in their particular villages.
Margaret Santos and David Kent both take on active roles in their Village of Erin Meadows, as does Phil Fiess of University Gates and Barry Hickling from The Village of Aspen Lake in Windsor.
These were active people before the nature of their physical health required a move to long-term care, and they’ve each proven in their own fashion that an active, engaged lifestyle remains viable after making the move. Indeed, as Phil said during his presentation about the impact of Schlegel Villages’ Wisdom of the Elder program, being active and engaged is critical to combatting the loneliness and isolation that affects so many people living in long-term care environments. Large events organized through the Wisdom of the Elder program, which draw upon and showcase the lived experience, passion and knowledge of each resident must coincide with smaller, regular activities to inspire residents, Phil said.
“Our challenge is to find, strengthen and implement new and existing ways to link the two types of programs so that these possibilities have the best possible chance to grow to their full potential and build relationship bridges to drive back the dark emptiness of loneliness,” Phil said.
Before the conference, Barry shared his views on loneliness as it affected him before he found the Village of Aspen Lake. He lived a terribly lonesome existence when he lived independently, but in Aspen Lake he found the community he was desperately lacking. He, too, spoke of the impact the Wisdom of the Elder program had in his life, particularly his time at last year’s Pursuit of Passions event, which brought residents from every Schlegel Village to the Bingeman’s Conference Centre in Kitchener to share their love of art, music, dance, woodworking, and countless other talents.
“The thing that I personally have been getting from the Pursuit of Passions, Olympics and other events that I’m involved in is that this is a commitment to me,” Barry said. “This is a commitment to my health and to my best well-being, mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally . . . and that’s a lifetime commitment.”
“I am alive and I’m proud to share what I have and to receive,” he continued. Living in a home that encourages residents to offer themselves to the community, “brings us to that point where we want to share.”
“You open yourself; you just open your heart and your mind, soul, spirit to sharing and growing with others.”
As the Walk With Me conference showcased, to change the culture of aging is to recognize that regardless of a person’s age or ability, they will thrive in an environment that encourages them to be the best they can be. The four residents from Schlegel Villages who shared their stories with conference attendees embody this reality in everything they do.