“Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” This quote, from American feminist Betty Freidan, summarizes the focus of researchers in UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Health and Social Development who have an unwavering goal to support successful aging.
“By 2036, it’s estimated that adults over the age of 65 will represent about 20 per cent of the population,” says Nelly Oelke, an associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing. “We know that much of this growing demographic craves autonomy and a fulfilling quality of life enriched by community.”
But adapting to the unique pace of being an older adult isn’t easy.
“Significant life changes happen after the age of 50 and these can trigger mental health concerns,” says Oelke. She adds that addressing only cognitive changes in aging is an oversight and that mental health also needs to be considered. “Did you know that high rates of suicide are found in men between the ages of 45 and 65 and that the highest rate occurs in men over 85?” she asks.
Oelke and others from UBCO’s Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention (IHLCDP) research team are exploring how to reach these at-risk individuals, especially those who live in rural communities with limited social networks.
One of these initiatives involves partnering with the Okanagan Men’s Shed Association (OKMSA), a non-profit society with a mandate to engage men (and women) of all ages, foster social connections and increase their well-being and self-esteem through participation in community projects.
Master of Social Work alumnus Ian Pryzdial witnessed the instrumental bonding that occurs amongst the sounds of hammers and drills.
“At the Shed, friendships have blossomed and a caring community has been built,” he says.
One participant agrees saying that since his wife passed away and his children have moved abroad, going to the Shed has become routine.
“I had nothing to do, and now I have purpose,” he says as he embraces this new opportunity.