Smart Aging Preparing for Life’s Transitions

By Peggy Edwards, Council on Aging of Ottawa

The idea for the Smart Aging program at the Council on Aging of Ottawa (COA) grew out of Sarah Bercier’s experience with older adults and the recognition that as we age, we experience a number of transitions, such as changes in our health and finances. Sarah, who is executive director of the COA, explains: “We have resources available to prepare for many life transitions including graduation, marriage, birth of a child, buying a home, job changes, retirement and more, but we could not find a program anywhere in North America that prepared people for the transitions of later life. So… we created one because we know that far too many decisions in later life are made in moments of crisis when we lack the resources and information that we need.”

About the Smart Aging Program

The Smart Aging Program is a series of workshops covering key topics facing older adults. Each workshop provides older adults with the information they need before they need it, so that they and their loved ones are prepared to make informed decisions. However, the format of the program is uniquely designed to do more.

Trudy Medcalf, an expert in older adult learning who played a key role in designing the workshops says, “We know that older adults have a lot of knowledge and experience. We wanted to draw on that and enable participants to learn from and teach each other. To provide people with an opportunity to discuss important issues with others, reflect on their own personal journey and be accountable to themselves and others when it comes to making plans for our own aging path. We also knew that the workshops provided a key opportunity to connect with others and form friendships that can last beyond the program.”

The program is offered throughout the year in multiple locations in the community, in both English and French, and through various platforms including in-person, online via Zoom and by telephone.

Workbooks are provided for all participants. The cost is minimal. Stand-alone workshops (2 hours) cost $5 for COA members and $10 for non-members. The 8-week core program costs $69 for COA members and $99 for non-members. Complimentary spaces are often available for those who find the cost prohibitive and would not be able to attend otherwise.

About the Smart Aging Workshops

Smart Aging includes eight workshops in the core program as well as eight stand-alone workshops.

Over eight weeks in the core program, participants take an active role in addressing the following topics:

  1. Understanding My Aging
  2. Staying Socially Connected
  3. Taking Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle
  4. Preparing for a Health Crisis
  5. Getting Where You Need to Go
  6. Exploring Housing Options
  7. Addressing Common Financial Concerns
  8. Engaging in My Aging (final session includes a celebratory lunch)

You do not need to have completed the core program series to participate in any of the additional stand alone workshops:

  1. Taking Charge of Your Emergency Preparedness
  2. Connecting at a Distance
  3. Exploring Online Banking and Shopping
  4. Understanding the Ingredients for Healthy Eating
  5. Nurturing Mental Wellness and Resiliency
  6. Aging in Place with Home Modifications
  7. Navigating In & Out of Hospital
  8. Aging in Place with Services and Supports

Tom Kelly, director of education with COA, tells us that several new stand-alone workshops are currently in development, including Spiritualty, Thriving Solo, Men’s Issues, Congregate Living and one on creating community in Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs). “These are all topics that older adults in the Ottawa community have said are important and they will be ready in the coming months in both English and French.”

Who Attends Smart Aging Workshops?

The program is designed for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. Tom says, “Currently, more women than men attend. This is not a surprise. We know that after retirement men are less likely than women to engage in community events. We are hoping this will change with the new workshop on men’s issues and as men who attend the program share their good experience with others.” Trudy suggests that it is good for participants to talk with family members outside of the sessions. “Understanding what the older person needs and wants and working together to develop plans brings peace of mind both to the individual and the people that love them.”

How Do I Participate and Learn More about Smart Aging?

  1. Subscribe. Sign up to receive the COA weekly Events INFO-FLASH. This brief electronic newsletter not only gives you information on COA events but also events from other community organizations. To get INFO-FLASH, go to
  2. Learn more. Read about each workshop and discover useful resources on our website at ca/smartaging/smart-aging-workshops. You will find details about each workshop, and a good list of resources related to each topic.
  3. Register. Check the COA website Events page ca/events-coa/ for upcoming workshops.
  4. Watch the Smart Aging promo at
  5. Contact us. Email Tom Kelly at or call 613-789-3577 x 4.

Over the years, the COA has collected many testimonials from participants. In the words of one, “This course is amazing to spark awareness of unaddressed business for seniors. The opportunity to connect, learn and share with the group is invaluable. So much appreciated!”