Vancouver Coastal Health supports a number of organizations through one-time-only funding, including Health Promotion Project Grants. In 2017, the City of Vancouver Seniors' Advisory Committee received a Health Promotion Project Grant to facilitate engagement with isolated seniors and produce a report recommending best practices and strategies to reduce social isolation among older adults.
The City of Vancouver's Seniors' Advisory Committee know that social isolation and loneliness are significant issues facing older adults. In order to better understand the causes and consequences of these issues, they teamed up with a number of strategic partners to produce the Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Seniors report (SILAS). The primary goal of this collaborative effort, which included representatives from the City of Vancouver, the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC, community and seniors' centres, the Council of Senior Citizen's Organizations, United Way, and SFU, was to develop recommendations to inform and guide local governments and community organizations in developing policies and programming to alleviate isolation and loneliness in older adults.
The creation of the final report was no small feat. Following an in-depth review of the available literature on social isolation and loneliness, SILAS researchers completed community consultations with over 200 organizations providing seniors services. The outcome was a summary of the research findings, and a set of 23 recommendations intended to encourage dialogue and innovative approaches to developing social connectedness strategies inclusive of older adults.
Key findings of the SILAS report (Elmer, 2018) indicate that chronic isolation and loneliness lead to a higher risk of various physical and psychological health problems. The findings also indicate that the negative consequences of isolation and loneliness can be experienced by individuals of all ages, though older adults typically experience additional barriers to engaging socially in their communities. The report's recommendations provide practical and tangible solutions to address this, and in many ways these recommendations are already being rolled out, including at VCH.
The investment into the completion of this report is already having a ripple effect. Recognizing the significance of social isolation and loneliness in the VCH region, VCH Community Investments One-Time-Only Health Promotion Project Grants include social connectedness as a priority funding area. Our team has begun work to create a set of measurement indicators for our Ongoing Health Promotion Program Grants program (SMART and CFAI) to assess the ways that programming supported by these grants develops social connectedness and to identify opportunities for improvement. In an effort to engage all recipients of these grants in activities that reduce isolation and loneliness and respond to the fourth recommendation in the SILAS report, provide training to service providers and others to identify socially isolated or lonely seniors, we will offer capacity development workshops for service providers to build knowledge and skills in this area, and foster a healthy community sector that further integrates concepts of social connectedness into programming.
A number of other projects have been funded by VCH Community Investments that specifically focus on social connectedness among seniors and removing barriers to service access, as per recommendation 6, incorporate elements of 'supported access' into programs. The Seniors Centre Without Walls project, a telephone peer support group for socially isolated older adults who experience access barriers because of limited mobility or access to transportation, was piloted by the West End Seniors Network in 2018 with the support of VCH Community Investments. In 2019, the Minoru Seniors Society is piloting Social Transportation Access for Richmond Seniors, a project where peers encourage seniors to attend programming by offering a buddy system, dedicated transportation, and reduced program costs.
The SILAS report also addresses accessible city design. Through the Vision Zero Seed Grant program developed in partnership with the Public Health Association of BC and VGH Trauma Services, offered for the first time in 2019, VCH is supporting regional efforts to improve safety and walkability of streets and neighbourhoods, work that coincides with recommendation 11. Additionally, a collaborative partnership project, Developing a Seniors Transportation Network Hub, was funded in 2017 to help reduce transportation barriers.
Beyond the Community Investments team, the VCH Public Health Surveillance Unit responsible for developing the My Health My Community (MHMC) survey has carefully considered information in the SILAS report regarding use of the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The discussion about this scale in the SILAS report informed the development of a question on the 2019 MHMC survey designed to better understand the extent to which those in the VCH region experience loneliness or isolation.
The Community Investments team is pleased to see the progress made so far on taking up the recommendations in both the non-profit and health sectors, and we are excited to see the projects that will spring forth based on ideas in this report in the future.
A SILAS brochure was created for individuals and service providers as a quick reference to help inform and better understand the issues surrounding isolation and loneliness. Both the brochure and the full report can be found here: http://www.vancouverseniorsadvisory.ca/loneliness/.
To connect with Community Investments and learn more about how you can build social connectedness and reduce loneliness and isolation in your community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.