Old age may be inevitable but seniors do not have to make the journey alone, thanks to the Age Friendly Society of the South Cariboo (AFSSC).
AFSSC is made up of a group of seniors who volunteer their time to help other seniors, and themselves, live full and healthy lives.
Ralph Fossum, the AFSSC’s chair, said that after three years of COVID-19 the society is preparing to restart but is in need of new members.
“One challenge with an organization that is full of seniors is that there’s an attrition, just by way of age. So unless we’re bringing people in on the bottom, we’re definitely losing on the top end. We’ve had a three-year lapse so we’re behind the times,” he said.
They are looking for what Fossum calls ‘young seniors’ to help replenish the membership. He noted that he tends to use the term 55+ rather than the word seniors as it does not sound as threatening.
“Three years have gone by and we’re all dealing with being three years older, and as Ralph said we’ve lost some people. We know there’s an interest here because it ballooned once we started it – it kind of really took off,” said society director Margo Wagner, adding that one of the reasons for its success is it gave seniors somewhere to go and visit with like-minded and similar-aged people, even if it was just for a cup of coffee, she said.
Monthly presentations on health and wellness, transportation, wills and estates, nutrition and much more drew crowds of up to 100 people at times, said vice-chair Mary Shennum.
In addition to the monthly events the society also held a resource fair that brought in more than 600 attendees and over 30 exhibitors, all geared towards aging gracefully.
“An area was set aside where people could sit, and we had some people do some baking and they could sit and have something sweet to munch on and to have a natter,” said Wagner.
People get isolated as changes occur in their lives and their mental health can deteriorate as a result.
Wagner said they are not mental health workers but just giving seniors the opportunity to sit down and discuss issues with someone who may be experiencing something similar is important.
People are not going to call Canadian Mental Health or Interior Health and say ‘I think I have a mental health issue.’
“Young people don’t do that, middle-aged people don’t do that. Seniors certainly don’t do it, because they see it as a sign of weakness,” she said.
But if they are just chatting and it just comes up in conversation it’s completely different. ‘I’ve had the same issues’ and then all of a sudden you have this little kind of peer support group going on,” said Wagner.
Fossum said there are several ways people can get involved. Attending or volunteering at an event, becoming a member, adding your name to the email or phone contact list, joining the steering committee or providing input into Age Friendly initiatives.
The explanation of Age Friendly provided by the society said that getting older does not mean people no longer have a say. “You can lead, give advice, request help, ask questions, suggest events, get information and the list goes on.”
More than 50 per cent of the people living in the South Cariboo are 55+ yet the services available to this niche population are inadequate.
Transportation is a major issue, particularly for those who live out in rural areas like Deka Lake or Lone Butte.
As people get older they may no longer feel comfortable driving on winter roads, they may have surrendered their driver’s license due to macular degeneration of the eyes or may no longer feel safe driving at night, said Wagner.
Fossum added, “One of the things about the aging process. It is fine for all these newbies coming up from the Lower Mainland but once one of them loses a driver’s license and they live in the backwoods, they’re hooped.”
Housing is another issue for seniors living on a fixed income and was the subject of a housing survey, said Shennum.
“Nothing seems to get done about it,” she said. ” I don’t understand why things haven’t been more proactive in that area.”
Looking for solutions to these and other issues experienced by those 55+ is just a part of what the Age Friendly Society devotes itself to.
“The age-friendly meeting once a month I think was wonderful for the seniors who needed some social connections and this gave it to them,” said Shennum. “It was something people really looked forward to and they were proud to be a senior. “
Fossum and Wagner said that people have been reaching out asking when the society will be starting up again.
“We just need some more help,” said Wagner.
They hope to hear from people who are willing to step up and help bring Age Friendly back to the South Cariboo and the people who live here.
“Seniors helping seniors,” said Fossum.