In Montreal, Concordia University’s Centre for Research on Aging, engAGE, is working to change perceptions about what it means to age. With Canada’s aging population booming, there’s an urgency to the research, which looks at aging as more than just a health issue or about living longer for the sake of it. Aging today is about living a satisfying life.
“We forget about the diversity of experiences when it comes to aging,” said engAGE director Shannon Hebblethwaite. “We talk about people from age 65 to 100 as if they’re one group. Imagine if we did that from birth to age 35? If we don’t look at them as a single, homogenous group and pay attention to their diverse issues, we can do better.”
According to Hebblethwaite, a lot of work in the field treats aging as purely a health problem in need of solving, but engAGE views aging in a holistic way, where physical, cognitive, sensory, emotional, social and spiritual health all contribute to someone’s overall well-being. The centre also examines environmental, societal, political and financial factors.
“We want to train a new generation of students to think differently about aging,” she explained.
engAGE gathers 32 researchers from 20 different disciplines across the university. What researchers have found is people benefit when they find a meaningful engagement that suits them.
“What are the activities, relationships and community experiences that they get really interested in? That’s where you really see the impact of interventions, if a person can do something that’s meaningful to them. You see positive effects to their physical, mental and cognitive health,” said Hebblethwaite.