International Gerontology students to connect with local seniors for lesson on healthy aging

A group of international students from Niagara College’s Gerontology graduate certificate program will soon learn about healthy aging in Canada firsthand – from a group of community seniors.

A Healthy Aging Café, to be held at the College’s Welland Campus on October 18, aims to bring students and seniors together. Held as part of a Healthy Aging in the Community course, 40 students in a class of international students will be participating, crossing cultures and generations to connect with local seniors.  

Each older adult will be paired with a group of students. For the first half hour, the groups will share their experiences of aging in Canada. Students will prepare questions in advance to ask the seniors, and seniors will give students a snapshot of their lives. By the end of the experience, each student should have an opportunity to speak to at least two older adults. The group work will be followed by a potluck prepared by the students.

Lorrie Hudd, professor in the School of Nursing and Personal Support Worker programs, noted that the event has been held each term since the program began in 2015 and is a wonderful opportunity for cross-cultural and inter-generational learning and engagement.

“The café is one of the many experiential learning opportunities within the Healthy Aging in the Community course, in which our international students are introduced to the concepts of health promotion for older adults and healthy aging within Canadian communities,” said Hudd. “The goal for students is to learn about how older adults stay healthy, live independently and age gracefully in Canada.”

St. Catharines resident Marcella Peshko has been participating in the initiative for the past three years. She embraces the opportunity to advocate for the elderly population of Niagara and beyond. She feels it is valuable to share the perspective of an aging person in Canada with the students, to give them insight into her physical, emotional and mental well-being, and express how she would like to be treated as an older individual.

“I am able to share with them how an elderly person should be cared for. The discussions we have give me hope that elderly people will be treated with dignity and respect,” she said. “It is beneficial to me, as a senior, because it gives me an opportunity to share my experience with the next generation. It also gives me a social opportunity to engage with the students. It makes me feel young and included in a project that can help many.” 

The event is one of several experiential learning activities in the course. The class will also visit the YMCA, participate in a hands-on physical literacy workshop for older adults, and have an opportunity to listen to a guest speaker – an older adult living with chronic illness from the community. Following the activities, students will have an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and the insights they have gained from them, as part of a class assignment.

This year’s Healthy Aging Café will also include participants from the Third Age Learning Niagara (TALN). TALN is a not-for-profit organization offering unique opportunities for older adults in Niagara to learn about topics of interest, in a socially engaging, small group setting.

In early 2019, Niagara College became the first college in Canada to be designated as a member of the Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network, which is dedicated to the role higher education can play in responding to challenges and opportunities associated with an aging population.

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