St. Albert resident Dawne Fowler sees no reason why seniors shouldn't be able to grow old in style.
After months of putting pieces in place, Fowler is trying to start a day program for seniors. Her vision is to connect and engage those residents entering the later years of life through music, storytelling, fellowship and humour. She hopes to attract many seniors who don't get out now.
The program Fowler envisions is a proactive approach to growing old – one that could help keep the mind sharp and potentially delay the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. It would be for residents ages 50 and up and would help to fill a need that she says continues to grow.
"I really want my seniors to be able to spend their last 10 or 15, or even 20 years feeling excited about getting up in the morning and eager to get into life, and willing to participate. And just really being fulfilled," Fowler said.
"I want to have lots of laughter."
In 2016, the fastest growing age group for St. Albert was between 70 and 74 years of age, with a 318-resident increase.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, nearly 40 per cent of people over the age of 65 experience some form of memory loss. The society says the number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to rise sharply by 2031.
In St. Albert, Fowler's project is just getting off the ground. Last summer, she incorporated the Seniorizing in Alberta Society, and now she is waiting to receive charitable status before she begins applying for grant funding to make the envisioned programming a reality.
Having cared for her aunt and uncle, both of whom experienced dementia, Fowler said it is important to break the stigmas associated with getting older and help seniors who experience isolation to get involved with each other and the community.
She is aiming for a June or July start and plans to partner with schools to connect seniors with children and youth, as well as a music teacher to bring music therapy to the seniors who attend the program.
"As we grow, it'll expand," she said. "We'll be doing more and more activities that involve physical, mental, emotional (exercise)."
That said, she recognizes there are plenty of challenges to overcome between now and then – from staffing the program to locking down funding. Once the society has charitable status, she hopes to apply for local and provincial grants.
Fowler has spent the last few months lobbying city councillors to become aware of and act on issues seniors face in general – such as improving access to public transportation and specifically the city's Dial-A-Bus feature. She has also let them know about her society.
"Everybody I've talked to is very interested in the program – it's a matter of how we are going to get this thing up and running," she said.
Fowler met with Coun. Wes Brodhead in the fall, prompting Brodhead to publish a post on his blog praising her for her passion on seniors issues.
In that post, dated Sept. 12, Brodhead called Fowler's program "an urgent requirement."
Fowler's long-term plan is for a stand-alone building, while in the short-term she wants to hold the program at the St. Albert Kinsmen Centre.
St. Albert Kinsmen's banquet centre confirmed Fowler approached them in the fall, although nothing concrete has been worked out yet and the centre is already heavily booked.
Kinsmen president Mike Carey said the organization is generally supportive of seniors events.
"It's definitely something our club is interested in," he said.
"After all, if we don't look after our seniors, what do we have to look forward to when we get older?"
Alzheimer's Disease an AHS issueResponding to an information request from Coun. Jacquie Hansen, St. Albert Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) director Scott Rodda stated the responsibility for starting an adult program for residents living with Alzheimer's Disease would fall on Alberta Health Services or a senior housing facility.
The Community and Social Development department used to fund a grant for a seniors day program run by the Seniors Association but cut that funding in 2010 because the program fell under the umbrella of Alberta Health Services instead of FCSS.