Metchosin resident John Bligh

Helping seniors age in place

Metchosin launching forums on “friendliness” of community for an aging population

Seventy years ago, John and Daisy Bligh were married in Metchosin, just down the road from where they live now. They raised a family and grew old, but not without planning ahead.

The pair live in their home’s renovated basement to avoid having to negotiate stairs. John, 95, and Daisy, 90, built in extra-large drawers to hold pots and pans, so they don’t have to bend down or reach overhead too far. John, still a jack-of-all-trades, even welded longer legs to their cast-iron stove to make it easier to pack in wood.

“We made (the basement) for old age so we can get at stuff easily. There’s no stairs to go up and down,” John says. “You never know what will happen when you get old. You live the day for the day.”

The Blighs in some ways are a model of what Metchosin would like to see – seniors choosing to age in place instead of moving into an urban retirement centre.

Facing a population that is growing greyer by the year, the district is launching a series of public forums to figure out how friendly Metchosin is for senior citizens. The district plans to gather residents’ opinions and ideas on mobility and transportation, accessibility to outdoor spaces, home services and social participation.

“We want to find out how our older residents feel about aging in Metchosin,” says Ed Bennington, chair of Metchosin’s healthy community advisory select committee. “We want people to come together and share ideas about practical, sustainable ways to enable older people to stay in their own homes longer and to participate more fully in the community.”

The Blighs, perhaps the most senior of senior citizens in Metchosin, reckon the district should encourage secondary suites or second dwellings – a controversial topic in the rural community – to allow relatives or friends to live on the same property.

“Some around here are against it until they get old, then they change their minds,” John says. “You’ve got to have someone around to help (seniors) out.

“A few years ago a (councillor) told me if you can’t drive, don’t live in Metchosin,” he adds laughing. “Now I’m told and can’t drive anymore. They won’t let me on the highway.”

The Blighs depend on help from their daughter to run errands and get around, although John still drives his tractor. With Daisy happy to tend the garden in the summer and John puttering around in his workshop, they aren’t planning on going anywhere.

“I like living in Metchosin. It’s a nice place to be,” John says. “We’re getting used to it,” laughs Daisy. “After 70 years you’ll get used to anything.”

The aging in place project is timely. In the 2001 census, Metchosin had 490 people aged 65 and older, or about 10 per cent of the population. Five years later the district’s total population fell, but the number of retirees jumped to 580, and the cohort of people nearing retirement age was at 855. The 2011 Census should confirm the entrenched greying of Metchosin.

“Our objective is to see if there are ways to age in place in homes. Many seniors want to spend their remaining years in their home,” says David Richardson, chair of the active aging project. “There are ways to help older people remain engaged in the community.”

Transportation and accessing services, and managing typically large properties are key challenges, but not insurmountable challenges, Richardson says.

“If you have 10 or 20 acres and you can’t handle the property, there’s not many alternatives people can step into,” he says. “But there may be options for people to keep their property longer.”

Metchosin Coun. Jo Mitchell noted in recent years Metchosin has become popular for “woofers,” young travellers willing to trade labour for food and board. Bennington pointed out Metchosin has an informal network of neighbours that offer rides and look out for each other.

“A lot of people come to Metchosin at 55 and see themselves aging here,” Mitchell says. “The problem is the economic reality that young people can’t afford to move to Metchosin.”

Part of the solution might be working out a system of volunteer drivers, Richardson says, similar to Metchosin neighbourhood “pod” system used for emergencies.

“The idea is to get what will work in the context of Metchosin,” he says. “Many seniors access services in nearby communities like Langford and Victoria, so accessing those may be where we need to concentrate our focus.”

The project is connected with a Metchosin council committee, which gives it a starting point to apply for government grants.

“Funding is always a concern,” Richardson says. “We don’t want to build up expectations that can’t be fulfilled, but there are things that can be done through volunteer programs.”

Workshops are Feb. 24, March 3, March 17 and March 31, 6:30 p.m. at the Metchosin municipal hall.

Metchosin residents interested in participating are asked to contact the committee at activage1@gmail.com or by calling Jane Hammond at 250-478-6126.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

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