Oct 14, 2019 by Carolyn Triemstra Special to The St. Catharines Standard

Niagara College has become the first college in Canada to be designated as a member of the Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network.

Comprising 44 post-secondary institutions from around the world — including six Canadian universities — the global network is dedicated to the role higher education can play in responding to challenges and opportunities associated with an aging population.

The community and health studies division has naturally supported age-friendly initiatives through much of our course work and through our community partnerships. This designation supports our current work and provides us with future strategic direction as we continue to enhance our curriculum and partnerships relating to age-friendly work. We are proud to endorse the AFU’s core principles which will enable us build on our support for older adults in our community as we collaborate with other institutions from around the world.

The initiative is driven by the AFU’s 10 principles, which provide a valuable guiding framework for distinguishing and evaluating age-friendly programs and policies, as well as identifying institutional gaps and opportunities for growth.

Niagara College has taken many steps to support the needs of older learners and an aging demographic in the region. Anticipating growth in demographic segments that includes new retires and those in search of retraining, the college’s 2017-21 strategic plan focuses on a more diverse student base and enhanced programming that reflects the changing learner and employer. Some initiatives include:

• Programming that helps meet the needs of an aging population, including those focused on health and community studies and a post-graduate certificate in gerontology;

• Virtual dementia training delivered to more than 1,000 students in 14 programs per academic year;

• Students from across many academic areas work with hospitals, long-term care facilities and community agencies that deal with an aging population for classroom projects. The college also works with them as partners for student placements and as clinical partners;

• The South Niagara Health and Wellness Centre at the Welland campus is a living laboratory for students which, in partnership with senior-focused community providers, provides a reciprocal learning environment that focuses on seniors remaining healthy and safe in their own homes;

• Course work focuses on inter-professional education for all health students;

• The college hosts an older adult health fair for the community which is an example of interdisciplinary student participation;

• A memorandum of understanding with the Niagara College Retirees Association (June 2018) provides a foundation for closer collaboration and ways retirees can participate more fully in college life.

• The college hosts Third Age Learning Niagara. TALN is a not-for-profit organization offering a unique opportunities for older adults in Niagara to learn about topics of interest, in a socially engaging, small group setting.

These are a few examples of the exciting opportunities students have to engage with older adults and learn from them as they give back to their communities.

Carolyn Triemstra is dean of community and health studies at Niagara College