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Program keeps elders active
Seniors socialize and stay active as part of effort to take sting out of stigma of long-term care

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 29, 2015

When Elders Day Program co-ordinator Juanita Bourque asks attendees why they keep coming back, "Because we have so much," is enthusiastically called out.

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Peter Kiktorak, left, Colin Amos, Pierre Benoit, William Allen and Elija Allen are deep into a game of cribbage during an afternoon with the Elders Day Program. - photos courtesy of Juanita Bourque

From Monday to Thursday, a group of up to 20 elders are picked up from their homes and taken to the program office at the hospital for a full day of activities, at no cost.

"We have an exercise program we do twice a week in the morning and we have various activities in the afternoons - crafts, outings with the elders to places in the community, we play games, like bowling and curling," said Bourque. "Our main focus is to keep them healthy and mobile and to keep their minds healthy."

The program is funded through the Department of Health and Social Services, as well as through local supporters and fundraising.

On Jan. 16, the program isn't running - being a Friday - but Bourque and her counterpart in long-term care, Cecile Bleakney, are in the office preparing chili for a sale to raise funds for the various expenses of the program.

To go along with their chili, program attendee William Allen drops in to cook up a few batches of "Eskimo doughnuts," a traditional deep-fried pastry.

"I try to help out in any way on my own terms," said Allen, a part of the program for the past seven years. "When I'm not helping, I'm just a regular elder here."

The 76-year-old said he first got involved with the program on the suggestion of his sister.

"When I first came, I didn't quite understand the program but later on, when they started doing some exercises and that, it made me want to come back here," said Allen.

"I'm really glad I've chosen to go to the Elders Day Program, it's just been great."

The program has been in place since 2004 and Peter Fair, manager of continuing care, said it has seen a great response locally and even gained attention in other communities. Similar programs have been developed in Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk and Fort McPherson, and Fair said organizers in Fort Simpson had also shown an interest in offering something similar.

As well as an opportunity to socialize and stay active, Fair said the program serves as a platform for health promotion.

"I always think of the Elders Day Program as supporting and running in parallel to home care and home support," said Fair.

For elders still living on their own, the program is another tool for keeping them in the best health possible, both physically and mentally.

"They have an opportunity to go out, meet people of the same age, possibly some they even went to school with, and get involved with different activities," said Fair.

Bingo is a favourite activity, Bourque said, as well as other card games

and traditional crafts.

The women in the program sew, having produced quilts to auction off and raise funds for the program. Men in the group are brought back to their earlier years, making jiggling hooks out of muskox horn, as well as ulus.

Members of the program are often in contact with long-term care patients, for various events and activities, which Fair said is another major benefit.

"A lot of the elders that are currently in the community, there's a stigma around long-term care that it's this place you go to die. We want to change that," said Fair. "The elders get to meet the patients, and when they eventually need to move into long-term care, it's not as scary."

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