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December 21, 2012

Aging doesn't have to be painful

The Canadian Charger

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In its continuing effort to help seniors make a contribution to their communities and lead more fulfilling lives, The Canadian Association of Multicultural People (CAMP) recently sponsored a Myths of Aging Session in Brampton.

Camp Executive Director Farina Siddiqui said she noticed that there weren't enough activities for seniors in the Mississauga and Brampton areas, and it made the adjustment to Canada more difficult for immigrants in their senior years. And due to weather conditions, inactivity amongst seniors was especially problematic in winter.

Ms. Siddiqui said some seniors may feel they're not able to contribute anymore, but this is a myth that must be dispelled.

“People do slow down with age, but this doesn't restrict you if you have the skill and knowledge. Many immigrants had designations and positions in their home countries and they need to prepare for job opportunities here.”

She said CAMP teaches seniors computer skills so they can surf the internet, study various aspects of Canadian life and create documents and communicate with email.

“We've hired a young instructor to teach the seniors. He speaks several languages. We teach them Canadian standards, if they want to get a job. And we teach what Canada stands for – the politics, culture and a little bit about the history of Canada.”

Encouraging seniors to join in and integrate into Canadian society is a main focus of CAMP's programs, Ms. Siddiqui said.

She added that although it's really hard for these seniors to call Canada home, that's one of the goals CAMP instructors have. They try to instill in the seniors – many of who are from southern Asia – which they can and should integrate into Canadian society.

“I came here 15 years ago and I call Canada home,” Ms. Siddiqui said. “Islam says wherever you live is God's land and your land. You must be part of everything in your land.”

Immigrants in their senior years - unlike many Canadians at that time of life – often live in their adult children's homes, where it's important that they're respected as the heads of the family, not treated as caregivers and babysitters, Ms. Siddiqui said. If they're able to assume their rightful role as head the family, Ms. Siddiqui said it improves their mental health, so they're not as likely to be subject to mental health issue such as depression.

They're also encouraged to keep their minds active by playing brain exercise games such as computer games, word puzzles, as well as socializing with many other seniors, in an effort to keep their minds sharp and maintain a positive perspective.

Social contact is often something seniors are not getting enough of, Ms. Siddiqui said. She cited the example of the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga – surrounded by three nursing facilities. Ms. Siddiqui said it's been her observation that some of the seniors lying in the hospital are there because they want attention. They're lonely, with nothing to do and they can't sleep at night. When they check themselves into the hospital staff must perform a variety of examinations on them, which may not necessarily be necessary and this, Ms. Siddiqui said, can be a burden on the health system.

“This is why it's important to have these programs and activities. The seniors need something to do. We teach them CPR – what to do in the event of a heart attack and what are the signs (of a heart attack).”

With a post-graduate degree in physiology in her native Pakistan, Ms. Siddiqui is well-qualified to teach the seniors exercise programs. She said inactivity can affect both the mind and body.

“If they have to sit, they are more likely to get sick, lethargic and frustrated.” using Canada's Physical Activity Guide, CAMP has ten minute exercise programs at most every meeting. Ms. Siddiqui said the exercises are not too vigorous because many seniors have health related problems which could be aggravated by vigorous exercise. She tells the seniors they should consult with their doctors before participating in more vigorous exercise.

Nutrition is also a particularly important part of seniors' overall physical and mental health. Ms. Siddiqui said CAMP instructs the seniors on the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide – fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat and alternatives and grains and lentils.

“We encourage them to enjoy foods from the four groups throughout the day and eat portion sizes recommended for their ages.”

CAMP also helps seniors access government services with telephone numbers such as 211 where Peel Health officials can answer their questions about government services and seniors' facilities in their communities, and a dietician can answer their questions about nutrition.

They are also told they can call 1-800 – OCANADA, to get information on about most government services, such as renewing their drivers' licenses.

Being in an environment where many people in their age group are active in the community and helping one another helps seniors realize they still have a lot to offer their community, no matter where they live.

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