As people age, the more frail the human body becomes.
However, studies have shown that by maintaining physical and mental health, frailty can be postponed in the senior years.
With that goal in mind, a new program is being launched by Fraser Health, in partnership with the United Way – that will be run through Community Services and the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice – to identify frail seniors in the community and help them access resources to keep them active and healthy.
The Seniors Social Prescribing Program is focused on that pre-frail population, explained Cheryl Ashlie with the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice.
“If you catch someone before they fall into a pattern that then develop some complex care needs you can diminish the need for those complex care needs. And so a senior will stay healthier and stay home longer,” said Ashlie.
The program is not entirely new.
Around 18 months ago initial trials of the the Community Actions and Resources Empowering Seniors program took place involving around five or six doctors in the community, explained
Dr. Al Neufeld is the physician lead of the seniors program through the Division of Family Practice.
“The CARES program came about because of the obvious quality of life of elderly people who are in better physical condition. As people age they have a frailty index that goes up naturally,” said Neufeld.
It was through the CARES program that a frailty index was created.
The program identifies people who are frail but haven’t got to the point of no return, said Neufeld.
“Once we identified them we tried to find ways to increase their activity and that seems to be through gentle persuasion, through coaching and mentoring type of system,” he explained.
This new program is more robust, added Neufeld.
“This program is a little more formal. It’s being funded by Fraser Health so the money is going to community resources. And, when it’s ready and up and running, we’re are going to go out and reach out to all physicians in the community,” he continued.
Through the program older adults will be given a series of mostly cognitive tests by a doctor to assess their frailty before being referred to Community Services. They will answer questions like how often they walk up the stairs or take an elevator, do they take their pets for a walk, do they work in a garden, do they do their own housekeeping, if they are involved with any activity groups or what kinds of activities they do with friends. Then they will be referred to a person called a seniors community connector at Community Services that will work with the seniors to connect them with resources across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. A team of around six volunteers will then work one-on-one with the individuals to motivate and encourage them to continue their involvement in activities. Then the physicians will be advised on their progress.
The program is currently being offered in 19 communities across the province, including Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, said Joanne Leginus, director of administration and senior services with Community Services.
It is a two-and-a-half year demonstration program that will, hopefully, expand the program into more communities across the province, she noted.
Currently Leginus is still hiring for the position of seniors community connector and once that position is filled the program will start.
“I am just in the process of finalizing references for candidates,” said Leginus, who expects to have somebody in place by the end of September.
“I’m super excited about it because we’ve been working with seniors for almost 50 years now. Programs such as these, like Better At Home, like the (Seniors) Party Bus, clearly have a significant positive impact on seniors,” said Leginus.
“And I’m really excited that this funding has forwarded an opportunity for us to just go on another level and reduce frailty and make seniors lives more fulfilling, healthier, happier, being involved in their community and it’s really exciting,” she continued.
The program is important because we now know through research that the slide into frailty is postponable, added Neufeld, by maintaining physical and mental activity.
“You eventually slide there. But ideally you would die healthy. That would be the ideal thing is to die healthy,” he said.
For more information go to comservice.bc.ca.