Fresh Insight from the Principles of Healthy Aging Training

After more than 20 years in the recreation sector, I thought I had heard all there was to know about working with older adults. I have a degree in sociology and gerontology and I had taken countless trainings to stay up to date with the latest research and techniques, what more could HIGH FIVE’s Principles of Healthy Aging (PHA) offer me that my years of experience and education hadn’t already? It’s safe to say I was a bit unsure of the training going in. I needn’t have worried though; I was surprised by how much I learnt!

The PHA training provided me with fresh insight into barriers older adults are facing today that weren’t common even 10 years ago. While many older adults are healthy and active, a growing number are likely to experience changes in their health as a side effect of increasingly sedentary lifestyles. For instance, research indicates that there are currently more than 4.6 million people living with osteoarthritis. In 30 years, this number will rise to more than 10 million. The PHA training offers a small glimpse into what it would be like to live with sensory challenges. Learning hands-on about how this affects the way older adults interact with their environment made me consider how easily they are able to participate in recreation programs specifically. I took this as an invaluable lesson in how to create a supportive environment for older adults.

As I attended the PHA training, it became clear to me that I have been applying HIGH FIVE principles to my programs indirectly for most of my career! Caring leadership, Participation, Friendship, Mastery, and Play are important cornerstones to any quality program. What I truly enjoyed learning more about however, was the principle of “Play.” After childhood, play becomes a neglected part of our lives, but it is still a vital part of staying mentally and physically active. I believe that it’s my job, as a recreation leader to show older adults that it is okay to play!

Since this training, our club, the Horton Street Seniors Centre, has taken a new approach to our programs—emphasizing the elements of recreation that many older adults neglect: Play and Friends. This has made a marked difference at our organization. We’ve gone from just being a regular recreation centre to becoming a hub where people come to connect.  

I’m always eager to learn more and challenge myself to think more critically about how I deliver my programs to older adults. The PHA training helped me do just this.

Karen Pyatt Westbrook has been a fitness instructor for over 23 years, 19 of which she has spent working with older adults. She is currently the program manager for older adult programs at the Horton Street Seniors Centre.

Learn more about the Principles of Healthy Aging training.