Did you know that in Gaspésie and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, around 30% of the population is aged 65 or over? To encourage active aging among seniors, the Bonaventure RCM, like other RCMs and municipalities in the region, has chosen to become a Senior-Friendly Municipality (MADA). What does this entail? What can be done to promote the health and well-being of people aged 65 and over? What advice can we apply? We spoke to Karen Audet, MADA development worker at the Bonaventure RCM and member of the Table de concertation sur les réalités masculines GÎM.

What Does a Senior-Friendly Municipality (MADA) Do?

Healthy aging: that’s what everyone wants. The Bonaventure RCM is working to make it happen. Together with a number of partners, the RCM is implementing its MADA policy and action plan, launched in 2023. What’s the goal? “It’s to bring about concrete measures based on the principles of active aging. We’re talking about inclusion, volunteering, mobilization, involvement, a caring environment, and a safe environment. We’re thinking about well-being, we’re thinking about adapted services, and we’re also thinking about responses to seniors’ needs,” Karen explained. Although the RCM has only recently been recognized as an Age-Friendly Municipality, a number of interesting projects are already underway.

Like what? The The Seniors’ and Their Families’ Services Directory (in French) recently sent out by mail to people in the RCM, is a case in point. “It’s a need that has emerged very clearly. People don’t know much about the services available to people aged 65 and over, and don’t necessarily know how to find information,” she noted. So, with a view to raising awareness of these services, the partners of the Baie-des-Chaleurs Well-Being Table, with RCM support, set about creating a directory in a practical format, which could, for example, be placed on the fridge so that information could be found there at any time. And this is just one of a number of initiatives that could be implemented.

Contributing to the Community Is Good for Your Health

A social worker by training, Karen is clearly committed to the health and well-being of seniors. In fact, she is working to raise awareness of these issues. But what does she think is the best way to age well and feel healthy?

The secret is to “stay active based on your interests and abilities. The best example is civic involvement: volunteering,” she explained. Do you like driving? Why not lend a hand to an organization by delivering meals to other less active seniors? Do you like sports? Why not offer your services to a field hockey team as a greeter? “It’s doing what you love to do by volunteering. The specialists in this field are the volunteer action centres, ” she added, that encourage people to find out more about volunteer opportunities.

“I advise seniors to do what they’ve always wanted to do if they can afford it, and if they can’t afford it, to do something that is similar to that. I’ve been working with a gentleman for almost 2 years who wants to open a carpentry workshop for seniors. He told me: since I’ve been working on this, I’ve looked 20 years younger. It keeps him active,” Karen commented.

So, “making small changes, getting moving, staying active, including getting involved in the community, can help people stay at home longer and in better shape, and prevent a decline in health and illness. There are all kinds of ways to stay active, you don’t have to be a runner!” she said with a smile.

For the Well-Being of Senior Men

Being active and doing what you love is as good for your morale as it is for your health. And if not, what other day-to-day things can senior men do to promote their well-being? “I think it’s important for senior men to take care of themselves if they want to be there for others, to be present for their loved ones for as long as possible,” she explained. “I know some senior men who are hard on themselves. But to be strong, you have to start by taking care of yourself,” she continued.

Taking care of yourself means, among other things, seeking help when things aren’t going well. “There’s no shame in seeking help when you need it. It’s only human. It’s normal. It’s courageous to ask for help,” she added.

Abuse: Let’s Talk about It

Talking about the well-being of seniors also means breaking the silence on abuse. This is one of the issues on which Karen is working with the Baie-des-Chaleurs Well-Being Table. But what is abuse? “It’s a singular or repetitive act, or a failure to act appropriately that occurs in a relationship where there should be trust, and intentionally or unintentionally causes harm or distress to a person. There are 7 types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, material, financial, organizational, violation of rights, and ageism,” Karen explained.

“We can’t accept abuse. With all the good years seniors still have to live, why put up with it? Why put up with things that make them uncomfortable and even unhappy?” she stated, and then returned to her advice: take care of yourself. “It’s never too late to respect yourself and learn to say no.”

And what if you’re a senior and think you’re being abused, or have questions about abuse? “There is help. You can call the Seniors’ Abuse Assistance League at 1-888-489-2287, and there’s also a website,” Karen added. This contact information is also useful for any loved ones who have questions about abuse. The helpline is open 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the service is free and confidential.

A Big Plus for Society as a Whole

Karen has made us realize the positive asset seniors are to society. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge. An outlook on life that has much to teach younger people. She also spoke of the importance of forging links and intergenerational relationships and emphasized the need to value community spirit and mutual aid. “That’s how I see the MADA policy. It’s about bringing about a change of vision, changing mentalities a little, and changing prejudices towards seniors. I think we have everything to gain by seeking out their expertise, integrating them even more into all spheres to promote active aging,” she explained.

The health and well-being of seniors concerns everyone. Happier, healthier seniors who contribute to the vitality of our communities are good for society as a whole.

To find out more about the Bonaventure RCM’s MADA initiatives, visit its website.