British Columbia

104-year-old woman shining example of municipal programs' success, says report

Mae Irving has spent all 104 years of her life in Metro Vancouver and says she's still healthy to this day because of programs funded by local municipalities.

A report by the Columbia Institute says municipalities play a critical role in providing services to seniors

104-year-old B.C. woman shares her secret to a long life

6 years ago
Duration 0:47
Mae Irving is one of the many seniors who use municipally-funded community centres to keep active

At 104 years of age, Mae Irving considers herself extremely fortunate to still be alive.

"I think I've just been very lucky. I had a husband, but I don't think I had him long enough."

Her favourite memories in life include taking a ride on a hot air balloon and going down the Thompson River.

Now, she stays active in different ways at the South Granville Seniors Centre in Vancouver.

"I take exercises once a week. I play bingo. I walk ... when I can," said Irving. "They keep me busy, and I think that's the secret. As long as you move and work."

104-year-old Mae Irving (right) spends some time with one of her friends at the South Granville Seniors Centre. (Pete Scobie/CBC)

Community centres essential to seniors' health

Irving was front-and-centre during the reveal of the Columbia Institute's latest study.

The report surveyed eight community centres in the Lower Mainland — gauging municipalities' roles in maintaining seniors physical and mental wellness.

It determined that senior centre programs play a key role in keeping seniors healthy and independent. That includes providing them with opportunities for socializing, healthy meals and physical activity.

Seniors at the South Granville Centre take part in an afternoon yoga session. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

"[Seniors' centres] are absolutely essential in dealing with social isolation, which is a key issue for seniors wanting to live long and healthy lives," said Columbia Institute's executive director, Charlie Beresford.

"They also provide amazing programs for physical well-being. So there's two reasons why seniors' centres are really important."

One of the report's authors, Gloria Levi, says the need for intellectual stimulation at seniors' centres is essential for their overall happiness.

"That's where you have discussion groups and book clubs and lectures and all kinds of things that feed the brain, that feed the mind."

"One thing that nobody talks about, and I think is very important, is creativity."

Municipalities' role in seniors' centres

The new study also outlines the critical role municipalities play in keeping seniors' centres alive. 

The report's co-author, Laura Kadowaki, says out of all the centres that were studied, only some were fully funded by their municipal government.

"The staff is paid for by the municipality. The municipality provides the building, and they also provide the annual budget."

Kadowaki says others were only partially funded.

"These are independent, non-profit societies that have close ties with the municipality. But they receive funding through a grant they apply for with the municipality. As a result they have to look for other sources of funding. "

The Columbia Institute released its findings on Metro Vancouver seniors' centres at the South Granville Seniors Centre in Vancouver. (Pete Scobie/CBC)

As a result, Kadowaki says those centres don't flourish as much as those that are fully funded by municipalities.

She says they may have to look hard for grants from other organizations and resort to fundraising.

Kadowaki says some centres charged an annual membership fee ranging from $4 to $36, and in some cases also required seniors to pay out of pocket for some of the programs.

"It can be a barrier sometimes to low-income people, but I know they do try to set them as low as possible."

The report emphasizes the need for continued funding from municipal governments and says seniors programs should be recognized as an important part of the health-care continuum.