Aging better | Social participation, the secret to better aging

After several months of restrictions in our social activities, we all need to rebuild these habits and reconnect to our network. As for the bike, we realize that fortunately it is not lost, although we sometimes have a hard time getting back on it. And that is important, because social participation is one of the cornerstones of good aging.

Published on March 12th

Melanie Levasseur

Melanie Levasseur
Professor-Researcher at Research Center on Aging, School of Rehabilitation, Sherbrooke University Hospital Center

Why ? Defined by a person’s involvement in activities that provide interaction with others in community life and in common spaces, increased social participation is associated with better health, including impaired functioning and mortality. Participating socially is also associated with reduced health care use, medication use, depressive symptoms, and cognitive and functional impairments. It is through social participation that we have the opportunity to see people, relate to others and experience fun group activities. But also to help and assist each other, to get involved in a collective project, to share knowledge and to take part in the decisions that concern us.

While one in five elderly Canadians has little social contact or feels neglected, one in three lives alone or is at risk of isolation. However, there are many opportunities to participate socially, depending on our interests and at low cost.

How? “Or what? As for the regular physical activity, social participation must be a part of our everyday life and can involve a change.

In order to participate more socially, it is important now to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and within a specific time frame – short, medium and long term).

One can choose to engage daily or weekly in a new activity that is important to oneself and promotes interaction with others in one’s residence or community. These activities may involve merely socializing with loved ones or be related to learning (training in the use of a tablet, for example), volunteering (friendly visits) and hobbies (knitting club). The Quebec Association for the Defense of the Rights of Retired or Pre-Retired Persons offers workshops to support seniors in this process1.

Whether your social participation challenges relate to motivation, travel, income, or awareness of opportunities, there are resources to help you overcome them. These resources can be identified by contacting certain organizations in your region, including the Community Development Corporation (in Coaticook, for example). An occupational therapist can also help you adapt certain activities or discover new ones. All that remains is to plan and prioritize these activities, to trust each other and to dare!

In addition to these opportunities, our team is currently working on developing and evaluating a set of interventions and actions to promote the health and social participation of seniors. These efforts aim to better equip seniors and people around them, namely volunteers, community organizations, stakeholders and municipalities. For example, we are currently collaborating with several volunteer action centers to train citizen volunteers, both retirees and students, to support people with disabilities to integrate into the community. In addition to benefiting seniors by stimulating them, this support gives volunteers the opportunity to gain experience, get to know each other better, learn new things or form good friendships! If this type of engagement appeals to you, contact the volunteer center in your region.2because we can all make a difference in someone else’s life!

The action plan

A Quebec for All Ages can help promote the social and recreational life of seniors and encourage research on this topic. To do this, in addition to the Active Life program, it is also important to encourage more specifically other initiatives that promote seniors’ social and recreational lives. These initiatives should not focus exclusively on the economic dimension, ie. to maintain their productivity, including as consumers or volunteers. Our actions and our collective goals can also support friendly common spaces, such as the SPOT for the Maison des vieilles de Lévis, a physical place designed and managed by and for seniors, open to all, at any time and without conditions. In addition to encouraging a contribution and creating a sense of belonging to the community, SPOT symbolizes the belief that we should all do our part to contribute to society and actualizes this belief by keeping the door open. Individually and collectively, do we leave our doors sufficiently open to the elders of our society? Does this openness allow us to welcome differences and be free from stereotypes, prejudices and age discrimination? The invitation is launched: let us participate socially, according to our interests, to age better and for our community!

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