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“Life is improv:” Mental Health, Seniors, and the Joy of Being in the Moment

Moving display of expertise and compassion marked the fifth annual seniors’ summit

An audience of more than 200 came together on October 26 to take a deep dive into mental health in older age. Organized by Age-friendly Peterborough and hosted by the Trent Centre for Aging & Society at Gzowski College, the fifth annual Seniors’ Summit opened with the provincial minister of Seniors Affairs, Dipika Damerla citing a survey that asked seniors to identify areas of significant concern to them. Ageism, aging in place, financial hardship, and social isolation ranked highest. The Minister linked these concerned to mental well-being and affirmed the provincial government’s commitment to addressing these important issues.   

Mental health first aid trainer Denise Waligora had the audience nodding and, at times, laughing as she discussed how to be an effective support to those in need of help. Identifying it as the core theme of her work, Ms. Waligora’s said, “learn how to be a better listener, if we don’t really listen, how do we know what another person is going through?”

Dr. Jonathan Bertram, family and addictions medicine physician with the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, took the audience into the current issue of opioid addiction. Linking the health crisis with social isolation, Dr. Bertram stunned many with the news that opioid poisoning is the third most common reason for hospitalizations in adults 65 or over.

Actor and comedienne Linda Kash finished the day with a group improv session that she connected to sustaining one’s health and happiness. Citing “life as improv,” Ms. Kash had the audience participating in silly games and word play in a demonstration of what it is to be living in the present moment, joyfully connected to others, even when times are tough.

In between the larger addresses, this year’s Seniors’ Summit included a vendor’s village, which offered attendees information on local businesses and public programming related to mental wellbeing, as well as a series of impactful and empowering workshops led by experts in their field, including Dr. Mark Skinner, director of the Trent Centre for Aging & Society.

“The Summit just gets better every year. You know you’re on to something when a minister opens up the event, experts at the top of their field give talks or host workshops, and the room is full of interested community members,” said Professor Skinner. “The organizing team includes many community volunteers who put their hearts into this event. They’re the ones who made the Summit the wonderful success it was.”

Posted on November 15, 2017