Help is on the way for seniors grappling with social isolation, including a new seniors’ advisory council that will look at making Nanaimo more age friendly.
Five Nanaimo partners, including the City of Nanaimo, are joining forces to address social isolation among seniors with more than $2 million from the federal government’s New Horizons for Seniors Program over three years.
At a recent committee of the whole meeting, city social planner John Horn said the municipality will get $168,360.
The project is aimed at marginalized groups that don’t access mainstream programs and services with the goal to help them feel connected and valued. Horn said the city will help seniors share their histories and stories and form a seniors advisory council, which will make recommendations on how the community can be more friendly.
Horn started thinking about age-friendliness in the public realm after speaking with a resident who lived at an assisted-living facility. She needed to rest at the half-way point between the facility and bus stop and that there wasn’t a place to rest meant she didn’t take the bus anymore.
“That sounds like a fairly simple little thing, but for her it was enormous. It became this barrier to leaving the facility,” he said. “Maybe we can find those kinds of things that are preventing people from really getting out into the world and if all it takes is a bench at a particular spot to address her needs and maybe everyone else who lives in that facility, well then that’s money well spent, in my mind.”
Dr. Paul Hasselback, chief medical health officer for central Vancouver Island, said the funding pots are trying to build connections among seniors and affirm health is more than just physical well being.
Social supports are a determinant of health, he said, and social isolation – through relocation for retirement, loss of networks, or mobility – increases the risk for health problems, hospitalizations and having to go into long-term care.
“If we are looking at enhancing the health and well-being of our seniors, we need to be looking at more than just health services, more than just taking pills; we need to be looking at these very issues in terms of connectedness with each other, preventing isolation and I would go so far as to say recognizing seniors, elders … as a valuable community asset,” he said, adding many seniors come with a great deal of life experience, knowledge, and have resources of time, volunteerism and capacity that are open to be tapped into and utilized.
“We can actually look to our First Nation neighbours, where elders are respected and very well integrated into the community and isolation is almost prevented because of the respect that’s provided to the elders within the First Nation communities.”
The city will establish a seniors council within the next three months.
Other partners in the initiative include Nanaimo Family Life Association, the Women’s Resource Centre and the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation/Lifeline.