Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors

Annex G – Summary List of Suggested Measures

The Council offers the following advice on the role that the Government of Canada could play to address the social isolation of seniors in Canada.

1. Raise Public Awareness of the Social Isolation of Seniors

The National Seniors Council suggests that the federal government work in collaboration with provincial/territorial/regional governments and community partners to promote social inclusion, address ageism and encourage engagement of seniors by raising awareness of the benefits of social participation of seniors, celebrating diversity in the aging Canadian population, and showcasing realistic images of the aging process using a life course approach.

Suggested Approaches:

  • Lead an awareness campaign to dispel myths associated with aging and social isolation.
  • Lead smaller targeted awareness raising initiatives through the use of social media and/or by leveraging external organizations’ activities to disseminate key messages addressing the social isolation of seniors.
  • These efforts could:
    • focus key messages to help raise awareness of the effects of aging including the influence of aging on mental health; to address the stigma associated with reaching out for help in the face of loneliness or social isolation; and/or to encourage seniors to remain engaged and connected to their communities;
    • be supported by information resources: messaging could refer audiences to seniors.gc.ca and/or to a telephone service line that would inform older adults of services in their area such as 1 800 O-Canada or other community information and referral networks (such as 211 Canada); print-based information could be disseminated through various front-line networks and points-of-service, such as family physicians, emergency rooms, pharmacies or community-based businesses (e.g. hairdressers, coffee shops and grocery stores), and public facilities (e.g. libraries); and,
    • include an evaluation component to measure reach, effectiveness and impact of messaging.

2. Promote Improved Access to Information, Services and Programs for Seniors

The National Seniors Council suggests that the federal government consider building on the successes of existing initiatives and mechanisms to support and facilitate increased access to information, services and programs for seniors, their caregivers, and system/service navigators.

Suggested Approaches:

  • Recognizing that a website renewal exercise is underway that will lead to a centralized Canada.ca site, the Government of Canada should explore options to maintain or increase the visibility of information available to seniors and their caregivers (including the information currently available on seniors.gc.ca).
    • In order to confirm the web content meets the needs of seniors and their caregivers, user testing/usability studies with older Canadians are recommended.
  • Capitalize on the success of the 211 telephone help line and website which provide a gateway to community, social, non-clinical health and related government services by supporting the program’s expansion to provide national and cross-jurisdictional service coverage.
    • To help address the social isolation of seniors, support could also be given to develop information specialists trained to assess if older callers are in need of resources, information or services.
  • Continue to develop the infrastructure to provide high-speed broadband networks for rural Canadians through the Connecting Canadians initiative.
    • Support efforts to foster the technological literacy of older Canadians such as by promoting and sharing existing information and tools developed through federally funded projects (e.g. NHSP projects, products of the former Community Access Program, etc.).

3. Build the Capacity of Organizations to Address Isolation of Seniors through Social Innovation

The National Seniors Council suggests that the federal government foster a culture that breeds social innovation and builds on trusting relationships among governments, businesses, not-for-profit organizations, community organizations, professional networks and seniors to work on activities that would leverage the collective skills and resources in communities to address the social isolation of seniors.

Suggested Approaches:

  • Develop and disseminate a “guiding principles” document to encourage organizations and front-line workers to think about how they can address the social isolation of seniors. The document could:
    • be developed in consultation with seniors as well as key players from the not-for-profit, public and private sectors; and,
    • support organizations by providing them with a framework for discussion and decision-making within their organizations as they work to meet the needs of seniors in their community.
  • Provide opportunities for dialogue and encourage community partners to collaborate on expanding or adapting successful/promising community initiatives that address the social isolation of seniors.
  • The New Horizons for Seniors Program could continue to fund small community projects that encourage the participation of seniors and prevent them from being isolated. The program could also be a funding partner in larger projects for initiatives that address social isolation of seniors, in particular, fostering organizational networks to build capacity.
  • Capitalize on existing initiatives and resources and support the sharing of information, promising practices and tools designed to address the needs of socially isolated seniors or those at risk of becoming socially isolated.
    • Consider updating and disseminating tools such as the Working Together for Seniors: A toolkit to promote the social integration of seniors in community services, programs and policies developed by the FPT Forum on Seniors.
    • Explore opportunities to highlight Age-Friendly Communities (AFC) projects that are addressing social isolation and promote the awareness of age friendly tools that facilitate effective implementation and evaluation of the AFC initiatives.
    • Support innovative social partnerships that bring businesses and community organizations together to create sustainable options to address social isolation of seniors.

4. Support Research to Better Understand the Issue of Social Isolation

The National Seniors Council suggests that the federal government continue to support research to better understand the issue of social isolation and links between social isolation and other seniors’ related issues.

Suggested Approaches:

  • Undertake further research to validate the impact, quality and value of innovative and promising practices (for example multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approaches).
    • Consider doing so through analysis of data from the General Social Survey (GSS 27 – Social Identity) to be released in January 2015.
    • Consider evaluating international promising or best practices and their impact/related outcomes (e.g. UK’s Campaign to End Loneliness, UK’s Dementia Friends Initiative, etc.).
    • Increase the knowledge base on social isolation, impacts of demographic change, and the health of seniors through continued engagement in international collaborations to align research efforts. For example, collaborative initiatives such as the Joint Programming Initiative “More Years, Better Lives” led by the European Commission.
  • Provide readily accessible information on the economic and health impacts of social isolation.
    • Consider integrating measures into existing national health and social surveys that could validate the impact, quality and value of innovative practices addressing the social isolation of seniors.
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