Written by Stephanie Wickens and Justine Levesque
According to the World Health Organization, the opportunity for seniors to socialize and integrate with people from other age groups and cultures is an important feature of any age-friendly community1. Hamilton is well on its way to becoming a more age-friendly community with ongoing projects through the Hamilton Council on Aging, the City of Hamilton, and Hamilton Aging in Community. One project supported by Hamilton Aging in Community is underway at McMaster University. Students in Professor Geraldine Voros’ Health and Aging course are working with local seniors to document their life stories through memoirs.
Co-creator of this project Stephanie Wickens a fourth-year student pursuing a degree in Health Studies and Gerontology at McMaster University said the motivation behind this project came from her own experience assisting a senior to write her memoirs through Hamilton Aging Together. Stephanie explained: I had such a great experience and got to know and appreciate my senior partner well through listening to her tell her amazing life story. When McMaster courses shifted to online learning this past year, I thought there could be an opportunity to connect students and seniors by including partnered memoir writing into one of the Health and Aging courses. When asked about the expected benefits of the project Stephanie said: The project is intended to foster intergenerational community connections as a way to combat social isolation during the pandemic. It is also an opportunity for strengthening intergenerational communication and sharing wisdom between generations.
Professor Emeritus at McMaster University and co-creator of this project Ellen Ryan explained the power of memoir: Life review is a natural process in our later years. Many older adults talk about writing down their life stories but don’t get around to it. Seniors can benefit from working with an engaged young person who listens, following up with questions and suggestions. The students’ one-term schedule also creates deadlines so that the project becomes a priority for those few months.
Seniors’ and Students’ Sentiments
The fall semester students are wrapping up the first group of memoirs with their senior partners. When asked about their student partner one senior involved in the project said: We were a perfect match. We had a lot in common right from the beginning, being proud Hamiltonians, with an interest in sports, pets, and local history. She is a patient listener and natural conversationalist, which resulted in relaxed discussions. She showed initiative above-and-beyond what I considered would be expected of a student partner, by researching various landmarks, streets, institutions, businesses, etc… that came up during our conversations. She has shown a personal interest in and enthusiasm for my experiences, which helped to develop a natural rapport.”
The experience was equally beneficial and meaningful to the students. One student noted the impact that this project has had on her life: I’m not sure they realize it at the moment but oftentimes when speaking to me about their experiences they inspire and advise me. For example, when speaking about maintaining a long-lasting marriage they said; “The person you marry is not the one you’re going to be living with a year, two years or 50 years later. People change. You are dynamic.” I’ll miss conversations like that.
Opportunity to Volunteer
This project will continue into the winter semester at McMaster University. We will be matching a new group of students with their senior partners over the next few weeks.
If you are a senior interested in participating in this project in the new year, please contact HamiltonAgingCommunity@gmail.com.
- World Health Organization, ed. Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide. World Health Organization; 2007.
- Our Priorities. Hamilton Council on Aging. Accessed November 29, 2020. https://coahamilton.ca/our-priorities/