COTA Victoria is working with the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) to come up with an outstanding outdoor education program in a residential camp setting that will be attractive and challenging to older people. So far, two camps have been held, both in an ideal setting at the historic Lord Somers Camp on the beach at Westernport Bay. COTA CONNECTS’ editor, Brendan O’Dwyer volunteered to attend:
‘I was fortunate to go on the three day camp last week with 20 participants. Our ages ranged from 61 to 84 years and we came from varied backgrounds. About half were volunteers with Lord Somers Camps, some with over 40 years of experience.
I knew that the aim was to encourage us to be more physically active so I had misgivings right up to the time I got onto the mini bus at Southern Cross station. By then it was too late to pull out. I need not have worried as the first day revealed that the exercises were reasonably gentle though I have to admit some were challenging.
What was wonderful and surprising was how quickly we bonded and developed a genuine camaraderie. We had so much to learn from each other. The meals were great and we all had comfortable single rooms. The physical activities stretched our horizons and when completed gave us a sense of accomplishment.
Dr Elizabeth Cyarto is the researcher with NARI and with COTA’s Alan Bull facilitated the camp.They were helped by Louise Karch. So in a way we were being experimented on. COTA and NARI’s hope is to come up with the best possible program to engage older people.
So their job was to inspire and motivate us and they certainly did this.
We had almost three full days of physical activity from early morning sunrise walks along the beach which we shared with galloping horses, to climbing stacks of milk crates – those who dared did so with a safety harness – trying new skills like archery and kayaking on a rather smelly creek which was quite challenging. My favourite task was learning simple HAT (Have a Try) exercises which I am still doing for 30 minutes five times a week. Let me explain HAT: they are exercises designed to improve your strength, balance and mobility. You don’t need expensive equipment and you can do these exercises in your living room. You can do them while watching TV, so I made a commitment to do my exercises whilst watching the 7.30 Report on ABC TV.
All this physical activity was underpinned by an interesting theory, Dr Liz called PERMA which stands for Positive emotion; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning and Accomplishments. So it was all about encouraging the positive and this enabled us to reflect on our attitudes towards ageing. Hopefully after this experiment when a new and improved program is rolled out, there will be more time devoted to discussion on the issues and challenges facing us as we age. How do we deal effectively with ageism and challenge the stereotypes society and ourselves have about ageing.
“Camp COTA” was really enjoyable and I felt I had learnt quite a bit. At least it gave me a break from my normal routine so I could explore new horizons and have time to think more clearly about how I can stay healthy and flourish. Brendan O’Dwyer