By Emily Stonehouse
There is only one constant in life, and that is aging. No matter what, it’s there, and it always will be. Aging can be a blessing; an opportunity to learn longer, to live longer. Yet the concept of aging is one that is often swept under the rug. “It’s become a taboo topic,” said David Buwalda, the facilitator for the Aging Together as a Community conversation held on Jan. 28 at the Fish Hatchery. “The more we talk about it, the more we can celebrate it, and we can make a difference.”
Aging Together As Community conversations were formed when two eager organizations combined their ideas; The Haliburton Highlands Long Term Care Coalition, led by Bonnie Roe, and the ReThink Policy Change group, led by David Barnes.
“We clicked right away,” said Roe, “and we both knew we wanted to discuss ways where we can respect our elders, and facilitate a cultural change.”
The group was not formed as an advocacy group or a political group, rather, it is navigated by the purpose of providing individuals with the opportunity to age respectfully, on their own terms. “There are opportunities to explore aging in their own homes and what that looks like, as well as alternative long term care homes,” said Roe.
Dave Buwalda works for ReThink Policy Change, and has dedicated time and energy into facilitating conversations about the worthwhile focus of aging together. He said that the session he facilitated on Jan. 28 was thoughtful, insightful, and inspiring. He noted that the energy in the room was positive and fairly light-hearted, but he worked diligently to create a space that felt safe and comfortable, so that participants could freely discuss a topic that is often taboo. “It can be a stressful topic,” he told the Times, “but I think it’s very important that we break down that wall, and start having these conversations.”
The session was split into two major parts: firstly, an informational presentation by Dr. Barbara Clive on dementia, followed by a break-out session in which participants could openly discuss the concept of aging, and the gaps they could identify for aging respectively in places they felt comfortable, seen, and heard.
“We were lucky to have Dr. Barbara Clive,” noted Roe, who shared that Clive was the sister of one of the organizing committee members, and a cottaging Haliburton county local. Dr. Clive is a geriatrician, and focuses on older patients who experience dementia, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, as well as individuals who have had falls or identified memory deficits. She provided an in-depth presentation on the background of these diseases, as well as areas where individuals could manage their relationship with these diseases, such as social contact, diet, and exercise.
“One thing we have learned is that dementia care is quite different from standard long term care,” said Buwalda, “so by doing the work and bringing these resources, it means we are having these conversations so that we can offer the support where it is needed.”
After Dr. Clive wrapped up, the nearly 100 participants in the session were split into groups, and tasked with the question of “what do you want in order to age in Haliburton?” This seed of a question blossomed into a series of conversations, ideas, and further questions. One of the major takeaways was the need for younger people to get involved.
“We had this idea, where every member of the group will bring one young person to the next meetings,” chuckled Buwalda. Roe echoed the sentiment. “This conversation has meaning for everyone, and there are ways to change things if you really believe in it,” she said.
Both Buwalda and Roe shared that aging is a reality that impacts everyone, and by removing the “taboo” of aging, and normalizing the concept with kids, teenagers, and young adults, it would alleviate the scare factor of growing old, and open up the door to a plethora of healthy conversations that would provide clarity and insight for all those experiencing the natural process of aging.
Roe also noted that they did receive an immense amount of support from local media, as well as representation of two members from Minden Council; Coun. Pam Sayne and Coun. Shirley Johannessen. She told the Echo that this level of involvement is instrumental in enacting tangible policies and actions that will assist community members as they age. “This is a community effort,” she said, “we want to show that there are creative alternatives to long term care homes, and yes, it takes creativity and energy, but we have that.”
To get involved with these conversations in any capacity, Aging Together as Community has a Facebook page, where all are welcome to discuss the topic. “This is a group of interested people,” said Buwalda, “we are a group of partners trying to figure out what works best for our community.” The next community meeting will be held on Saturday, March 4, from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the West Guilford Community Centre, and will be a hybrid in-person and Zoom meeting. For more information and the Zoom link, contact Bonnie Roe at 705 457 6579 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.