Debate Club for Seniors: Building Friendship & Brain Health


Which came first:  The Chicken or The Egg?

The subject was hotly debated at Shaftesbury Park Retirement Residence where seniors gathered together, notebooks and humour in hand, as they went toe-to-toe – or head-to-head – at their first Debate Club meeting.

The driving force behind the newly formed and innovative program, Anastasia Atkinson, Health & Wellness Director, wanted to offer an activity that met the needs and interests of all tenants, regardless of functional level. The goals were to give seniors a chance to do something of interest, challenge their thinking, and to provide an opportunity for caregivers to make time for themselves.

“Some of our residents are very active in the community and show interest in wholesome conversation. The idea was to introduce those with similar interests and offer a program they would join with pride, but also have a lot of control over.’

“We had been watching videos of the Oxford University Debate”, says Anastasia, “but it’s a whole different kind of entertainment when it’s your own community members! ‘

“They turned a humorous subject into a genuine argument that got a point across!”, says Atkinson about the event.  “Everyone who participated is having fun with it when they pass each other in the hallways. The benefits of this activity exceeded expectations!”

Why Seniors Should Join a Debate Club

Formal debate may usually be associated with the ‘hallowed halls’ of higher education, parliamentary buildings, or courtrooms, but debate skills are valuable beyond the podium.

Learning and stretching our minds is part of healthy aging and makes us feel good! It provides a sense of purpose and achievement, brings people together and allows for social connections and friendships to form.

If you care about cultivating your mind, there is simply no better use of your time than serious debate. Here’s why.

1. It is a Fun and Rewarding Experience!

After a long pandemic year, being part of the debate team helps seniors connect in an enjoyable, rewarding, and safe way.

In Atkinson’s words, “It is a very neat way for seniors to get to know one another.  The common interest of wanting to try something new really brought our debaters together.’

“Teamwork was a key to a successful debate. The residents got together on their own time and spent hours preparing and researching, whether it was using a computer or calling family members!”, says Atkinson. “Now that it’s over, they’re having so much fun watching the videos [of the debate] and sharing photos with family and friends! People are happy to have made new friends with similar interests. They enjoyed the friendly competition very much and are curious what side they’ll have to be on next time (we choose out of the hat).”

lady debating

2. Gain Valuable Skills

For many seniors, doing research on-line is a new frontier.  To prepare for the debate, the team must expand and share their knowledge.  For some people, this means learning to use a computer – and Google – for the first time!

If you’re not yet ready to wax poetical on the podium, judges are always needed. Being a judge exercises concentration and note taking skills.

3. Improve Active Listening

To listen is to be open to what our conversation partner is saying. Debaters learn to listen and to engage meaningfully in conversation with those whom they disagree.  After all, you can’t refute an argument if you don’t understand it. To win, listening carefully to what is being said, objectively and without bias, is essential!

4. Gain Confidence

It is a natural human phenomenon to lose confidence as you age. Body changes and life-altering events, like retirement, health challenges, and loss of loved ones all cause a decline in confidence after the age of 60.

It takes courage to get up in front of your peers!!

Debaters develop more confidence through public speaking and using effective communication skills. To communicate your ideas about a subject, you must be conscious not only of your intended meaning, but of the way your words might be perceived by those who enter conversation with you. Debate aims to help people of all ages develop the tools necessary to express themselves, as well as the confidence to both defend and question their beliefs.

5. Broaden Your Perspective

Everyone has opinions. Participation in competitive debate requires that seniors research and interrogate their assumptions, test their ideas, and present them for peer scrutiny. This can keep memories sharp and brains alert. All while learning about topics of interest!

6. Increase Brain and Cognitive Health

Debate stimulates creative and analytical thinking, which helps build cognitive function.   Seniors in debate club reinforce the ability to motivate themselves, to set a goal, identify the intermediate steps that will get them to that goal, and neatly summarized an argument.

Cognitive health or function — the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember — is an important component of performing everyday activities.

There is a growing body of scientific research suggests that the following routines are linked to cognitive health:

  • Take Care of Your Physical Health
  • Manage High Blood Pressure
  • Eat Healthy Foods
  • Be Physically Active
  • Keep Your Mind Active (with debate club!)
  • Stay Connected with Social Activities
  • Manage Stress

debate activity

Fostering connection at All Seniors Care

Based on quality of evidence, arguments, and, performance … the Chicken came before the Egg.  Watch our You Tube channel and social media sites for more information for about the next debate club meeting at the end of July when we settle the question of which is better – books or television.

With new debaters joining each month, the club is quickly catching on at our retirement home that offers independent and assisted living in Winnipeg.  But, Debate Club is just one of the many activities and clubs you can find at our retirement residences. There are also bridge and cribbage clubs, as well as plenty of ways to get active physically.

If you are looking for a retirement residence in Canada with an active social calendar, take a tour and learn about our other locations, like College Park in Regina, SK or  McCarthy Place in Stratford, Ontario.

When you’re looking for a retirement residence, find one that fits your lifestyle. Schedule a visit and be sure to ask about the social clubs and activities.


Writer:   Julianna McLeod


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