Ryerson is working with the National Institute of Ageing (NIA) to become Toronto’s first and Canada’s largest age-friendly institution.
“It’s building bridges across the generations that are giving more people more opportunities to be a part of the Ryerson community,” said Michael Nicin, NIA’s executive director.
“There’s a lot of emerging research on the importance of intergenerational connections. I think everyone wins across the board when there’s more intermixing, more intermingling and opportunities to touch base.”
The NIA is a Ryerson-based research centre that focuses on various aging issues and enhancing successful aging.
“We had actually really initiated discussion about the importance of our campus to be an age-friendly campus,” said Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi. “The most important thing is for people to feel supported and welcome, because education is not just for young people.”
Ryerson will be working towards making a more accessible campus for aging people by following universal design principles, which focus on easy navigation and accessible curbside pickup and drop-off areas around campus. It is also one of the newest members of the Age-Friendly University Global Network.
Universal design is all about ensuring that full accessibility is being taken into consideration throughout the planning and building process so that anyone, regardless of ability and age, will be able to access these buildings.
“As our population gets older, we’re realizing that we’ve been building our cities for able-bodied 30-year-olds, as opposed to older people,” said Nicin.
However, Nicin added that it’s not just physical barriers that are preventing people from getting around the city, but psychological ones as well. This is often due to a lack of confidence in older adults, who may not know how they will be able to get to their destinations without running into physical barriers. Many times, this fear causes older adults to isolate themselves at home, because the world becomes too challenging for them to navigate without the help of others.
Much of the NIA’s goal is to get cities to understand the emotional toll it takes on people who are unable to get around on their own, and showcase the importance of seamless accessibility for people who are in need of it.
Beyond that, Ryerson has created educational programs for older adults, and for those who are interested in pursuing careers in the field of gerontology, which is the study of old age.
The G. Raymond Chang School for Continuing Education is offering its programs for those who are 50 and older. This non-credit program aims to give older adults a chance to socialize with like-minded individuals and learn about topics that interest them.
The Chang School has also partnered with the LIFE Institute, which has a network of over 2,000 older adults, and together they organize classes that cover various subjects relating to arts, humanities, technology, sciences and modern issues.
“In a sense, they get to pursue their interests and sort of fulfil their desires for what they want to learn, and what’s most important to them,” said Nicin.
Most older adults are working passed past the age of 65 and due to the rapidly changing technological world, they are realizing the importance of staying up-to-date, Nicin added. It also gives them a chance to learn new skills and trades, as well as socialize with people in their community.
Ryerson’s gerontology courses are also addressing the increasing need for trained professionals who are able to work with this demographic. The certificate in aging and gerontology as well as Canada’s first master of health administration (community care) degree are meant for professionals who primarily work with older adults, such as occupational therapists, health and medical personnel, community workers and family counsellors.
Nicin said that for the first time in Canadian history, there are more people over the age of 55 than there are under the age of 15. Despite this demographic change, many universities and medical schools are still graduating a significantly higher amount number of pediatricians compared to geriatricians.
“We have realized that universities, hospitals and governments haven’t really kept up with the demographic changes,” said Nicin.
“So as our population ages … we’re going to need a lot more specialists that know how to best intervene, and help with the aging population, so the gerontology program is fulfilling that need.”