Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, www.gotcredit.com.

For rural residents, getting older is not the same as it is for city folks. That reality compelled the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), and a cadre of community organizations to create CORAH, the Centre of Rural Aging and Health.

What the founders hope will soon become a hub of activity, ideas and energy started with an existing respite program and a contemporary conversation about aging well. The NSCC campus in Middleton, in partnership with the NSHA and the VON, has provided an adult day program for the past 10 years. There, older members of the community of roughly 1,900 can spend time with neighbours, engage in great discussions, and have fun while caregivers get a break – and peace of mind.

Older adults in rural areas have different needs than those in urban centres. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Ian Bryson.

Partners involved in the initiative began looking at gaps in the community and the needs of older adults in rural areas. Three needs topped the list. The first two – home repair and snow and grass work – are practical. The third is much more personal – social inclusion. “Social participation has demonstrated health benefits. It is important people in rural settings have the mechanisms to stay home and engage in social interaction,” says Wayne St-Amour, principal of the NSCC’s Annapolis Valley Campus in Middleton and Lawrencetown.

Engagement can be elusive, especially for older individuals in rural communities, notes Scott McCulloch, the NSHA’s manager for seniors in the Western Zone: “Social isolation for some seniors is a real issue. We’d like to make sure there is more ability for seniors to become engaged.”

Attaining that goal will require upending well-entrenched ideas about getting older as well as offering up new, inviting, and accessible opportunities to get involved. “The perception is often that people who retire are not as engaged. We want to give seniors an opportunity to become engaged and to deliver and take part in programs,” says McCulloch.

CORAH, now in the development phase, has four focus areas. They are healthy practices, including injury prevention and use of medicines; active living including daily physical activity; healthy eating including food preparation and safety; and healthy relationships including connecting with the community and purposeful helping. The intent is to develop a menu of activities following consultations with prospective partners and the community. Elements will be unique to the area, notes St-Amour. “For example, healthy eating involves local food.”

What the new Centre will not do, stresses McCulloch, is duplicate existing services and programs. “We want to develop a hub. This will be a resource for seniors.”

A yoga class may be part of the adult day program’s lineup. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Gothia Towers.

At the Middleton campus, for example, older individuals could find their downward dog in yoga class, whip up a meal in a community kitchen, or sit in on a session about the law and their life. “If you have a hub, you have a central spoke where people can turn to for information,” McCulloch notes.

Creating that hub in Middleton, in the heart of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, is fitting. The community is getting older at a rate faster than most other communities in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016, about 17 per cent of the country was 65 or older. In the province of Nova Scotia, this figure was almost 20 per cent. In the town of Middleton, it was about 31 per cent.

“It’s also about our students interacting and gaining learning. That is unique,” says St-Amour.

While other centres for older adults exist across Canada, few are resource centres and it appears none have a close connection to a college campus. “It’s also about our students interacting and gaining learning. That is unique,” says St-Amour. “The idea of locating this type of learning in a college setting may be a first.”

How a centre can help

As part of its community conversation, the need for a Centre of Rural Aging and Health was explored with residents and community groups. Here’s why a resource centre for older individuals is smart thinking:

  • Highly active older adults with depression are more than 2.5 times more likely to have improvements in their symptoms.
  • Social participation enhances quality of life and decreases the risk of dementia.
  • For every seven older adults with increased social activity levels, one will remain disability free with a roughly five-year timeframe and the proportion with mobility issues will decline by 19 per cent.

What’s an older adult to do?

Plenty, it appears. When asked what they look forward to, older adults taking part in consultations for CORAH identified the following activities and inclinations:

  • Being able to give back to the community
  • Travelling
  • Advocating for change – assertively
  • Having more free time, less stress and more sleep
  • Speaking their mind and pushing the envelope

 

Main photo: www.gotcredit.com