Most people look forward to Friday, but none so much as Colombo’s senior citizens who have their weekly gathering at St Paul’s Church Milagiriya parish hall every Friday. Walking in, we are surprised by the noise. So much for the quiet gathering we were expecting – this is a party in full swing. The Sri [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Fostering a healthy community

The Sri Lanka Association of Senior Citizens’ weekly gatherings are an important opportunity for members to socialise and enjoy some fun activities

Most people look forward to Friday, but none so much as Colombo’s senior citizens who have their weekly gathering at St Paul’s Church Milagiriya parish hall every Friday.

Walking in, we are surprised by the noise. So much for the quiet gathering we were expecting – this is a party in full swing.

The Sri Lanka Association of Senior Citizens started 25 years ago and has now expanded to four branches in Milagiriya, Rajagiriya, Panadura and Kandy.

Weekly gatherings are an opportunity for members to socialise, exercise their brains and even do a little shopping. Scrabble, carrom and bridge are just a few of the games set up at tables, but many admit they like to walk around and chat as well.

The ‘market table’ where members can buy or sell their homemade produce, clothes, or handmade creations is a popular stop.

Meeting up: Members playing Scrabble and bridge. Pic by Amila Gamage

While mainly a fun outing, these meetings serve a deeper purpose in contributing to the health of its community.

Mrs. Nimal Gunasekara, patron of the association, spoke to the Sunday Times about the importance of staying mentally alert in preventing dementia as you age.

While the Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation focuses mainly on the curative aspect by assisting people already with dementia, Mrs. Gunasekara said their senior citizens society works on the preventive side.

The Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation explains dementia as “progressive loss of the powers of the brain”, citing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia as the most common kinds for which cures are yet undiscovered. In addition to being mentally active, the foundation also recommends maintaining a healthy diet, physical activity and social activity as ways of reducing the risk of dementia.

Each year the senior citizens’ society also organises an avurudu event, Christmas celebrations and two picnics for its members.

This year’s avurudu was a huge success, with everyone joining in games such as the bun-eating contest and marking the eye of the elephant and the avurudu kumaraya, Neville Perera, bagging the title for the third time.

The society also occasionally brings in experts in relevant fields to give talks on topics such as investment, health and nutrition.

However, it is clear that the main reason these gatherings are so popular is because of the companionship they foster.

Over 40 people come each time and some say that when they go home on Friday, they immediately prepare their outfits for next time.It is the highlight of the week for most of them and many are just as keen on meeting new people as catching up with old friends.

A 2008 World Bank report on Sri Lanka’s aging population stated that “the elderly do not appear to be very influential in society”.It found that only half of all elderly belong to organisations such as political parties, village development societies and senior citizens’ clubs, which reflects their inclusion in society at large.

While the elderly are respected and cared for within families, few consider their role outside the family unit and the psychological repercussions of being socially isolated.

Mrs. Indrani Atukorale, the society’s president, says being lonely and idle can lead to thoughts that you are ‘useless’ and a ‘burden’ on your family and society.

A 2013 World Bank mental health report links loneliness to depression and states that symptoms are often overlooked in older adults because they coincide with other late life problems. It states, “older adults with depressive symptoms have poorer functioning compared to those with chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, hypertension or diabetes.”

Mental welfare is just as important as physical well-being. Providing a space for social and mental engagement and thus contributing to the overall mental health of the elderly is, therefore, a significant service.

The senior citizens society depends primarily on patron donations and sponsorship to fund their activities and weekly gatherings. “We manage, but it’s not easy because we do not get any concession,” said the society’s treasurer, Mr. K. M. K. Kulatunga. Nevertheless, the society is always open to newcomers and everyone, just as long as you are over fifty, is welcome.

Most members attending reside with, or are dependent on, their children and families for support. There are quite a few former teachers, some retired from the corporate sector and others who have been in various fields in the course of their career.

What most share, however, is the experience of raising and providing for a family and the feeling of being surpassed by the next generation, or having to bid farewell to a spouse or friend from this world. The senior citizens society is a place for them to unwind amongst people of their own age and feel included.

All-Island Senior Citizens Scrabble Tournament 2015

The annual All-Island Senior Citizens Scrabble Tournament will be held on Sunday, October 18 at the Colombo Hilton Hotel where Sri Lankan citizens over the age of 50 will vie for the Deshabandu Clara Motwani Cup. Registrations start from 8 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. and the tournament will commence at 9 a.m.
Play will be in two categories. The “A” category will be for the championship and words used will be from the Collins Scrabble Words Dictionary (CSW12), the internationally accepted dictionary currently in use. The “B” category will be for players who prefer using more traditional words from the Oxford English Dictionary.
Prizes will be awarded for the highest game score and the highest word score, along with spot prizes for each of the five games that will be played.
Entry forms are available with Mrs. Indrani Atukorale at No. 102/1, Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7 (Phone: 11 2696993) and Mrs. Delryn Wijesinghe at No. 27, Ridgeway Place, Bambalapitiya (Phone: 11 2587094). The entry fee is Rs. 800 and the closing date for entries is October 11.

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