This issue includes part two of the article about centenarians living in assisted living facilities.
In part one, we ended with Heather Nelson, the lead researcher of the study, talking about how she has students who think all older adults are hard of hearing. So in part two, we will pick up from that point.
Most of the centenarians we spoke to were hard of hearing, but their wit and intelligence were in good working order.
Sometimes in our youth, we may see older adults who move slower or have hearing difficulty as lacking cognitive ability, which is an unfortunate assumption.
An article in the American Medical Association magazine I was reading recommends health care professionals avoid “elder speak,” which is treating older patients as though they do not have the same understanding of their health as younger patients.
CNN did a story about how retirees from the healthcare profession can become frustrated when they find themselves in hospitals or other medical settings and are dismissed when trying to advocate for their healthcare needs despite their professional credentials.
Because our society tends to have ageist tendencies, I encourage you to watch the accompanying documentary with this story so you can see and hear from the women we interviewed for yourself.
You can watch the trailer below, which I hope will spark your interest in watching the full 30-minute documentary, which I will share next week.
What’s missing from the story?
One thing both Heather and I are very aware of is that this study only focused on women, and that was not intentional. The time and resources available for this project limited the search for participants. Initially, Heather hoped to find men and women from different backgrounds, but that didn’t work out.
Lastly, the centenarians we talked to have the financial resources to afford high-quality assisted living facilities, which isn’t everyone’s situation.
There are subsidized care options in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and I would like to write an explainer on what those options are, but I will have to postpone this for a future issue. I thought obtaining this information would be a matter of a simple web search. But I will have to make some phone calls because the information available is confusing (at least to me).
What are your thoughts on aging?
I would love to hear about your experiences, questions or concerns on aging and housing for older adults, as there is more work for The Flatlander to do on senior care and housing.
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Our Prairie stories.
Part II – What’s there really to complain about at age 100?
About one-third of older adults between 65 and 74 have hearing loss, and nearly half of those over 75 have hearing difficulty.
Many factors can contribute to hearing loss, like high blood pressure, diabetes, certain medications and long-term exposure to loud noises.
Like several seniors the researchers spoke with, Clementina Ripplinger is hard of hearing.
During the interview, her son, who sat beside her, sometimes had to lean close to her ear to repeat some of the research questions asked by Susan Page, one of the Saskatchewan Polytechnic team members.
Betty Peterson, another centenarian who was also part of the study and lived at Qu’Appelle House with Clementina, preferred Heather write down some hard-to-hear questions for her to read on a whiteboard.
The recreation facilitator used a microphone during a bingo game played by Clementina and Betty to help them hear the numbers.
Recreational opportunities in assisted living homes
In addition to Qu’Appelle House, the study included centenarians at Harbour Landing Village and College Park II in Regina.
All three homes had a wide array of activities for residents, like movie nights, field trips and exercise classes.
The Rumpus Room in the basement of Harbour Landing Village has a big screen TV between a wall of books and puzzles. In the back is a pool table.
Qu’Appelle House hosts a daily afternoon tea for residents.
And College Park II has a Nintendo Wii game console in its Movie Theatre room for residents to play virtual golf, curling or bowling. There is also a large indoor pool for aquacise.
These Regina senior homes are like resorts without the beach.
Not having a home of one’s own
At Qu’Appelle House, Clementina’s small room is similar to one in a university dormitory. There is a bed, a chair and a dresser.
Centenarian Joyce Duncan’s private room has a bedroom and a living room at Harbour Village Landing.
After a stroke, Joyce needed assisted living but finds it difficult not to have her home anymore.
“It is nothing against this place because they are really good,” said Joyce.
Every morning the staff helps her wash and put on clothes.
“I eat a good breakfast,” said Joyce. “Poached eggs, cornflakes and coffee.”
Over at Qu’Appelle House, Betty, who is 101, says there is something different every day.
“Today, it was my bath day,” she said. “So right after breakfast, (they) woosh me into the bathtub and do my hair.”
Christine, another resident at Qu’Appelle House, said she would love, once again, to do the activities she enjoyed when she was younger, like playing ball and tennis. Now she says there is nothing to do.
“If I could flip the age back, I would,” said the 102-year-old.
Betty is more positive.
“What’s there really to complain about? There’s good food, nice people.” She shrugs.
Keeping busy at 100
Betty entertains herself by playing cards.
“Cheating, sometimes,” she says with a laugh. “That’s grand fun.”
Joyce keeps busy writing poems and stories, which she submits to literary magazines and writing contests.
Even at 100, she tries to perfect her craft and stays current on industry trends by reading Writer’s Digest.
“(The publishers) like my stories, but they want more action,” she said.
Joyce can’t type like she used to, so she dictates her work to her daughter.
On the wall of Joyce’s living room hangs a framed poem she wrote about the Second World War; a copy is in the archives of the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
How the Second World War impacted who the centenarians are today
During the war, Joyce worked on an assembly line in Ajax, Ontario, making caps and detonators. She worked with trinitrotoluene, more commonly known as TNT, an explosive material that can turn people’s skin yellow.
Women who worked in these factories were sometimes called “canary girls” because of this poisoning.
Other side effects included nausea, constipation, and dizziness. In some cases, exposure to trinitrotoluene could cause anemia and jaundice.
When Joyce’s skin turned yellow, she changed jobs and began working on the Lancaster bomber.
“That was going to end the war,” said Joyce about the aircraft.
The war is why she values democracy today.
“I don’t care who you vote for, but vote,” said Joyce.
Back in Saskatchewan, Clementina’s experience of the war was different. She stayed on the family farm and worked, and like many other Canadians back then, had to ration certain foods to help feed the men fighting overseas.
“You only got so much sugar, so much coffee.”
Meat and dairy products were also restricted.
One of the centenarians who participated in Heather’s research project was Jean Thomas, whose husband fought and survived the war but later died of cancer when Jean was 34 and the mother of two young children.
Every year after her husband’s death, Jean would go to France to commemorate and honour those who helped her husband and others like him escape the then-German-occupied country after being shot down.
She did this work as a member of the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society, which her husband helped found in 1942.
Jean, who became an auditor at the Canada Revenue Agency, spent her vacations assisting and interviewing those who had helped the escapees and their families to assess their housing, food and medical care needs.
The Escaping Society disbanded in 1995 after its work was no longer required. Jean, however, continued her community service, holding various volunteer positions with Scouts Canada.
She remains a Royal Canadian Air Force Association member.
Still working at 100
Jean has long coordinated the Community Volunteer Tax Program for Saskatchewan, assisting those unable to prepare their tax returns, which she still does to this day.
As a COVID-19 precaution, people wrap their papers in a grocery bag and drop them off for Jean, who completes the tax returns and calls them to report if any money is owed.
Jean just got her first smartphone this year and is learning how to use it.
When she is not working, she accompanies the singing group of about 20 people at College II, using the facility’s black Roland grand piano to play popular songs from the early 1900s, like “Shine on Harvest Moon” and “Now is the Hour.”
“My hands and legs don’t work as well as they used to, but I can bang out enough to keep them singing.”
Jean also joined Heather’s research committee to be a volunteer liaison with seniors at College Park II for future studies.
In January, Jean received the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for her community contributions.
Jean, who uses a wheelchair, goes to local events via paratransit.
Keeping active is something all the centenarians had in common.
At Harbour Landing, Joyce goes to exercise classes with 99-year-old Mary, who can still polka without losing her breath.
“I just do what I can,” Mary said.
Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed
- Foreign workers file human rights complaint against Manitoba trucking company
- Manitoba’s threatened woodland caribou are finally getting much-needed protections
- Royal Canadian Mint still foresees vital role, despite declining demand for coins
- ‘We just watched it burn‘: Shamattawa can’t fight blazes without working fire truck, chief says
- Global mining giants are flocking to Manitoba. Here’s what that means for the province
Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed
- Saskatchewan research team aims to bring 30 million bison back to the Canadian Prairies
- .’A dire situation’: Regina Symphony Orchestra at financial risk due to dwindling audience
- Restoring native prairie in Saskatchewan through reverse auction
- How loud is too loud? SGI coming up with vehicle noise standard
- Saskatchewan to fight federal single-use plastics ban in court
The CBC reads The Flatlander
After CBC Saskatchewan’s Morning Edition team read part 1 of The Flatlander series on 100-year-olds, they contacted nursing researcher Heather Nelson, who was featured in our article.
They also talked about the documentary “Looking Forward at 100,” which I will be sharing in this newsletter next week.
You can listen to the Morning Edition segment here.
(One minor correction, CBC played a clip from the documentary and told listeners they heard Heather speaking, but it was the voice of Susan Page in the clip, one of the other research team members).
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