Bob Anglin admits that it wasn’t the easiest decision to move from small-town life into a midtown Toronto senior living residence.
“It was tough leaving where I lived for 10 years,” says Bob, 86, who lived in Port Hope, Ont. “But I have moved before and now I’m here and I’m a happy camper,” says the former manager at IBM Canada.
Bob’s home is now a light-filled one-bedroom suite at Amica on the Avenue. It was a group decision to move, involving Bob and his five adult children; he was alone in Port Hope after his wife died four years ago and found he frequently had to make the 100-kilometre-plus drive to Toronto for medical care.
“The kids thought driving wasn’t such a good idea. So I gave up my licence and came here on a two-week trial basis and I haven’t looked back,” Bob says.
“He told us on day two that this was where he wanted to be,” says his daughter Marnie Anglin, who lives nearby and sees him often.
In his new home, Bob enjoys high-quality dining, a fitness centre, pool, scheduled transportation and entertainment. But what he enjoys the most is the company.
Overcoming loneliness is one of the biggest challenges for seniors, and a key benefit to living in a setting where there is support, care and activities, says Heather Palmer, National Director of Cognitive Well-being for Amica Senior Lifestyles.
“It’s not just a matter of moving in and not being lonely anymore. We have to pay attention to peoples’ individual needs, to listen and look for signs. It’s hard for people to just come up to you and tell you they feel lonely and ask for help,” she says.
A recent U.S. survey on healthy aging found that roughly one-third of seniors say they are lonely. In the study sponsored by the seniors’ advocacy group AARP, more than a third of respondents said they sometimes felt a lack of companionship, while 27 per cent reported feeling isolated.
In Canada, gerontologist Mariam Larson, who works with the non-profit organization Allies in Aging, said that as a health risk for seniors, loneliness is “worse than smoking, it’s worse than obesity. We didn’t realize how much it can affect health beyond just quality of life.”
There’s a significant and often direct connection between growing older and becoming lonely, Dr. Palmer adds. “If you think of an aging brain, as we get older the parts of our brain that change impact our ability to take initiative, to plan and organize. Yet social engagement often requires initiative; it takes planning and organizing,” she explains.
“So it figures that if you have a mechanism to encourage people to try new experiences, help them break down the barrier, people enjoy it and want to do more.”
“Before I moved here I was involved in a lot of activities, but I found I was still spending a lot of time on my own. That’s remedied in this establishment,” Bob says.
“They keep us busy. We have a wonderful Life Enrichment Coordinator directing activities. We have excursions, including out of town trips to the theatre, for example the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival. I also go to exercise every morning. When you have so many activities, the days go quickly and you look forward to the next day.”
“There’s also a therapy dog that has come to visit us. I have had a dog before so it’s nice to see a dog here,” he adds. Bob also enjoys going out with daughter Marnie and his other children.
“One of the advantages to Dad being here is that it’s close to where I live and I can actually walk over,” Marnie says. “I come over for a lot of meals, and we have family game nights here. I know some people worry it will be sad to visit a seniors’ residence, but it’s not that way here at all.”
Dr. Palmer says adult children can help their parents as they age, not only by being around but also by keeping track of significant changes.
“Documenting things helps. If you’re concerned about changes in your parents’ level of engagement, and whether they’re becoming lonely or depressed or not functioning as well as before, take a notebook and mark down all the things they used to do and enjoy,” she says.
“Then mark down what they’re not doing or doing less. Then you can look at why — even if there are new barriers because they’re aging, you can help them overcome these.”
Bob says he is not trying to replicate his old life in his new setting — he’s moving forward.
Dr. Palmer adds: “It’s important to us to create an environment where residents feel comfortable with the changes they’re experiencing as they age, and where we can accommodate to those changes.”
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.