What image comes to your mind when you think about a senior, or an older adult? Do you think of someone who is frail, who requires assistance to complete daily tasks, and who may be sitting in a room working on a puzzle? Or are you just as likely to envision a “mover and shaker,” someone who is an active participant in their community, driving and supporting our economy, and working to make our province an even greater place to live, work and play? I hope it’s the latter but if it’s not, I’m here to ask you to challenge your beliefs and be part of a movement that is recognizing, and benefiting from, the positive impact of today’s older adults. And let’s be honest — who doesn’t love a good puzzle?
Our province is aging at a faster rate than it is growing. According to Shift: Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an Aging Population, one in four Nova Scotians will be over the age of 65 by the year 2030. We can, and should, actively embrace, expect and capitalize on the contributions of older adults. Quite frankly, if we don’t support older adults to play important roles in our society, we’re up the creek without a paddle. We don’t have enough people to fulfill all the roles and functions that keep our communities humming along. I’d like to provide some examples that may help you challenge your own thoughts regarding the contributions of older adults.
In my capacity as communications co-ordinator, I work with the Seniors Association of St. Margaret’s Bay. These folks amaze me on a daily basis. Their tenacity and commitment to the community are awe-inspiring. Their energy exhausts me — I often feel like I can barely catch up as they are off and running on another project when I’m still trying to catch my proverbial breath from the last one. What’s most interesting about this group is that the impacts of their projects are felt throughout the entire community — not just by those whose age lands them in the “senior” category. This group has either founded or assisted in the development of, a community transportation service, a local fundraiser which raises $8,500 each week to benefit local organizations, and is currently helping to establish a community enterprise centre, the aim of which is to foster local, socially-minded business development, particularly among young people.
What about business? Where do today’s seniors and older adults fit in? That’s easy — everywhere! The reality is that we don’t have the skilled workforce that we need as the baby boomers continue to retire. Organizational succession planning is scrambling to keep up as the number of retirement cakes being served at offices across Nova Scotia outpaces the number of new hires. At the crux of the matter is that people nearing retirement age, or who have already taken the plunge, have experience that our economy requires. We need to find creative ways to tap into and benefit from that experience. Mentoring, for example, passes knowledge from one generation to the next. When I left the traditional workforce to start my own company, I knew I was lacking experience and credibility. I wanted to work with someone who had “been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt.” I was fortunate that I didn’t have to look far — my dad was the perfect fit, and since he was looking for a retirement project, we joined forces. This mutually-beneficial agreement isn’t available to everyone, the result being that some new entrepreneurs miss the opportunity to learn from the experiences of an older generation. All those decades of learning, of figuring, of trying and failing, and trying and succeeding, are not captured, not passed along to others, and not supporting our community and economic growth.
There’s another, perhaps more obvious, realm in which we should be embracing the contributions of older adults. After a few years in the parenting game I’ve come to truly realize how much I value, and need, the support of my parents and inlaws in the raising of our children. The kids benefit from having a connection to a different generation — someone who isn’t trying to juggle all the needs of a modern family but who puts everything aside to listen to the song my daughter learned at daycare, or an intricate description of the world my son has created in Minecraft. These contributions may look and feel different than those that focus on business or community activities, but they are just as powerful and meaningful.
As you go about your day, take some time to think about how we can capitalize on the gifts of an older generation. Our growing population of older adults should be considered an asset, not the other way around.