Ucluelet working to help locals age well locally

Ucluelet is striving towards becoming an age friendly community.

About 30 communities have received Age-friendly Community Recognition from BC’s Ministry of Health since 2012 and Ucluelet wants to add its name to that list. 

The district is putting together an age friendly action plan and a community meeting was held on June 19 where Dr. Elaine Gallagher spoke to why becoming age friendly is important and how it could be achieved.

 â€œI really commend you people in Ucluelet for wanting to get involved in this idea and I encourage you not to think of it as a short-term project,” she said.

“This is a long-term process and I really encourage you to think about it in that way. I’d like to see it built into your planning process in the long run.”

Gallagher was part of a research team tasked by the Ministry of Health to look at age friendliness in about 30 communities and said her research highlighted several key factors a community needs to succeed.  

“The first thing we found was that they really needed absolute strong support of local government,” she said.

“They also needed a local champion, they needed at least one person in the community who got it, who understood what this was about.”

She said her research helped develop a guide for businesses to create positive experiences for seniors.

“These are very helpful in terms of thinking about your community as a place to grow old but also, in your case I would think as a tourism site and a destination site, for older people who want to come here and be able to find their way around the community and feel very comfortable and welcome,” she said.

She encouraged Ucluelet to create, and build, momentum in the age-friendly movement by launching small projects early on.

“We found that if people could come up with some small, easy to do, changes at the very start it would grab people’s interest; it would keep them engaged and involved,” she said.

 â€œThere’s some things, that don’t cost a lot of money, that we can do quite quickly that will get us going and help keep the momentum going.”

She added seniors must have opportunities for social participation.

“Most seniors have told us that they don’t want to be isolated living all by themselves and seeing only older people, they want to have opportunities for mixing with people in different generations,” she said.

“Older people want to be treated with respect and they want to be included in civic life.”

She said potential emergency situations must be considered and cited a mudslide event in Pemeberton that shed light on a gap in that community’s emergency preparedness.

“One of the problems during the mudslide and flood was that nobody seemed to know where the isolated seniors lived,” she said.

“An age friendly community ought to give some thought to what happens if there’s a disaster…It’s probably a good idea to think about who looks after our seniors in our community if something like that happens.”

During the public question period after Gallagher’s presentation, Ucluelet local KK Hodder suggested accessibility is not just an issue for Ucluelet’s seniors.

“One thing that I think would be a problem would be the lack of sidewalks,” she said. “You’re just kind of on shoulders with gravel…I stroll around with a baby carriage a lot so I’ve noticed that.”

Gallagher agreed.

“If you do make a community more senior friendly, you actually make it friendly for a lot of other people too and that’s why you get such good mileage out of putting on this kind of a lens for future planning. It really benefits everyone,” she said.

Coun. Randy Oliwa asked how Ucluelet could become a true age-friendly community given its current lack of medical services.

“The day to day ongoing medical care of not just seniors but the entire community…how does that rate to actually have a medical facility that’s open in the community to be a true age friendly community,” he asked. 

“You could build the best sidewalks you can have the best covered areas you could have washrooms everywhere but right now, if there’s an (emergency) event all of our medical staff are tasked to run to Tofino.”

Gallagher said some rural communities are finding ways to deal with their lack of medical access by bringing in nurse practitioners and utilizing telehealth resources.

“These are partnerships that would need to be developed along the way,” she said. “There are a lot of issues around health…You’d need to define what you’re particular issues are and then look for some solutions that might fit for your community.”

 

Andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca