We’re used to getting prescriptions for illness, but how about a prescription for wellness?
Fraser Health is working with physicians and community stakeholders to ensure seniors stay healthier longer through social prescribing, a concept that connects seniors to community resources for exercise, socialization and improved nutrition. The aim is to offer these services while seniors are still independent.
“The concept has been around for quite awhile, especially in the U.K., but it’s new in B.C. and relatively new in Canada as well,” said Dr. Grace Park, Fraser Health’s regional medical director for community health services. Park is the medical lead for CARES, or Community Action and Resources Empowering Seniors.
Social prescribing is one component of the frailty management program, and in Surrey involves DiverseCity Community Resources Society as a partner.
Here’s how it works:
Family physicians and nurse practitioners identify seniors who could benefit from a social prescription involving increased activity, social engagement, caregiver support and/or food security. The prescribing physician then connects the senior to a Seniors’ Community Connector with DiverseCity, to work with them on a wellness prescription. Just like a typical prescription, the dosage and amount is tailored to the individual’s needs.
For example, if the senior lost a loved one and is grieving, they might benefit from a bereavement group, or if transportation difficulties are a barrier to exercising, the connector can help. Some people are shy and psychologically vulnerable. The seniors’ connector can work through these issues and set small goals and follow up with the senior to ensure success. The connectors act as a navigator for services already in place in the community, integrating health care with social service providers.
So far it’s too early to see many, or any, program benefits for Surrey-area seniors, as social prescribing is relatively new in the city – “maybe a few months new,” Park said.
“The referrals we are suggesting for GPs are vulnerable seniors who are socially isolated and may have difficulties with food security and are inactive,” she added.
Seniors can go through their doctor to learn more about social prescribing, or contact DiverseCity to speak to the Connector, as a way of self-referral, Park noted. DiverseCity is online at dcrs.ca, call 604-507-2266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Health care professionals can download a client referral form from DiverseCity’s website.
“It’s not that seniors don’t want to be social or active, but sometimes there are barriers for them to get to these places, perhaps where they can go to get the appropriate exercise program, and they might have a problem with transporation – they don’t drive or have someone to drive them,” Park said.
“And sometimes they might not have resources to pay for an exercise class at a rec centre, for example, so the Connector will work through those issues and set small goals for them, which might involve getting a volunteer to help them with transportation or, for example, source an exercise program that’s appropriate for them if they’re in a wheelchair or use a walker, using those community resources.”
Fraser Health received grants through the United Way to bring the senior’s community connectors to 10 communities. There is currently one connector in Surrey, hired through DiverseCity. Services are available in eight languages.