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Seniors empowered by challenging, adventurous activities

Participants of an immersive outdoor education program for seniors.

From traversing high ropes to stand-up paddle boarding, older people are open to and benefit from trying new and challenging physical activities, a leading researcher will tell next week’s Active Ageing Conference.

Bolton Clarke Institute senior research fellow Liz Cyarto undertook an Australian-first pilot in 2014 in partnership with the Australian Camps Association and COTA Victoria that demonstrated the feasibility of an immersive outdoor education program for seniors.

It involved 24 people aged 56-83 spending three nights at a camp in Victoria’s north-east participating in adventurous outdoor challenges, such as a high-ropes course.

Since then Ms Cyarto has been involved in several other adventure camps for older people.

Liz Cyarto

“It has been eye opening in terms of people’s abilities, regardless of age,” Ms Cyarto told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“We have done a few camps over the last couple of years and the main message is people realising that their capacity for learning new things and having the physical abilities to do them is surprising to them.”

She recalls an 83-year-old Mandarin-speaking woman doing the high ropes, walking across the beam with only a safety harness on and seeing how thrilled she was when she was being returned to the ground.

It is very inspiring and goes against the stereotypes of ageing, Ms Cyarto said.

“Here they are, up eight metres above the ground walking across a narrow beam and feeling so empowered and the sense of joy and pride of having done something they didn’t think they could do.”

At a camp in 2016, 32 seniors aged 61-84 years took part in a two-night outdoor experience program in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, which focused on helping older people take part in activities that facilitated goal-setting to improve wellbeing.

One participant with mobility issues had a camp goal to get into the kayak – not paddle around, just get in – and she cried with joy when she accomplished it, Ms Cyarto said.

“It also motivated her to get back into her walking program when she got back home.”

Other activities have included morning walks on the beach, bush walking, archery, and singing around the campfire, she said.

Overall, camp participants received a boost in their confidence from being able to face challenges and they also connected with nature and their fellow campers, she said.

Dr Liz Cyarto will share the outcomes and research findings from these camps and discuss future camp ideas resulting from co-design workshops at Active Ageing Conference 2017.

Active Ageing Conference 2017 is hosted by Australian Ageing Agenda and Community Care Review and takes place on 30 August at Bayview Eden Melbourne.

For more information and to register, click here.

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