According to Food Banks Canada, seniors account for 6.3% of food bank users across the country. However, local food bank statistics in rural Southwestern Ontario indicate that seniors account for 10-20% of clients.
This summer, a research team is working in the region to investigate Food Insecurity and Rural Seniors Living Independently. Professor Al Lauzon and Valencia Gaspard of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph are supervising two local students, Emma Warren from Listowel (a second-year medical student at Trinity College in Dublin) and Valerie Steckle from Zurich (a Master’s of Global Health student at McMaster University) as they work on the research project. The study team is interviewing medical professionals, service providers, home care staff and public health officials to determine the barriers preventing older people from accessing nutritious meals in Huron, Perth, Grey, and Bruce Counties. Valerie and Emma were connected with Dr. Lauzon through Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health, a local not-for-profit organization that aims to improve the health and quality of life of rural residents through research, education and communication. Through this partnership, the students are working locally at Gateway’s office in Goderich.
Food insecurity is defined as a state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited. Food insecurity can be classified into three categories:
One in eight Canadian households are currently food insecure. Research suggests that when people are unable to meet their most basic living needs, such as housing and heating, they make difficult trade-off decisions with more flexible expenses, including food.
When compared to food secure seniors, food insecure seniors are more vulnerable to a wide range of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, and back problems. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions. Additionally, there is a particularly strong relationship between food insecurity and poor mental health (e.g., depression, anxiety, mood disorders and suicidal thoughts).
In Canada, the proportion of older adults is rapidly increasing amidst constant threats to the social safety net. There are current concerns regarding increased costs of living and a lack of government subsidies/pensions to keep up with inflation. In addition to income-based barriers, seniors in rural areas are subject to inadequate public transit and other accessibility barriers that exacerbate issues of food insecurity. Other contributing factors that may make seniors more vulnerable to food insecurity, include; cognitive decline, diminished mobility, low income, poor dental health and social isolation.
To combat the food security challenges facing our community, many programs and services have arisen across the four counties. Some examples of services include; food banks, cooking classes, tax clinics, and assistance filling out applications for government subsidies. Meal delivery services and community cupboards/food shares have also become increasingly popular, especially in towns where grocery stores have been permanently closed or are located on the town borders.
This exploratory study is being conducted to assess the food barriers faced by rural seniors and determine the implications for seniors’ health and wellbeing. This research will ultimately guide clinical practice, service provision and public policy development.
If you are part of an agency that has information relating to this topic, or if you would like to stay informed on the status of the study, email Dr. Al Lauzon at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gatewayruralhealth.ca.
For the past year, the Lonely No More program has been providing an opportunity for isolated and at-risk seniors in rural Huron, Perth, Grey and Bruce counties to create new points of support as well as increase their social connections with other older adults in these communities. This has been done through weekly Elder Circles, which are teleconference calls consisting of an intimate group of seniors as well as trained volunteer facilitators. It is exciting to see the positive impacts this program has had on the senior participants involved. In an interview with CTV News, one of our senior participants, who was a part of the Elder Circles, commented, “I like it because, yeah, at least you talk to people” (https://london.ctvnews.ca/lonely-isolated-seniors-helped-by-weekly-phone-call-1.4325085).
During this past year, which was the pilot phase of the program, there were successes as well as certain challenges. In terms of senior involvement in the project, a total of 257 seniors took part in the project or experienced the activities from across the 4 target counties, in addition to 17 seniors directly involved in carrying out the project and its activities, including the project organizers and volunteers. However, the main challenge faced throughout the pilot phase was the recruitment of isolated senior participants for the Elder Circle calls. In future, new strategies will be implemented to help overcome this challenge, including reaching out to close contacts of seniors in these areas, who would be more likely to come into contact with information regarding this program than the seniors themselves.
We would like to thank all our advisors and volunteers for all their hard work and dedication to making this program run smoothly and successfully. Also special thank you goes to the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility, who provided funding for the pilot phase of the program. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a part of the Lonely No More program, or for more information, please do not hesitate to contact Kia Moazzami, the Lonely No More project coordinator, at email@example.com.
On May 29, 2019, Sheila Schuehlein accepted her new position as the Research Chair of Rural Health Coaching at Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health. Sheila has served on the Board of Directors for Gateway since 2013 and currently serves as a Director and Program Lead of Lonely No more, a program aimed at tackling the problem of social isolation in rural seniors. In her new Chair position, she hopes to improve the well-being of rural residents through collaboratively developing and facilitating innovative research projects and community programs using a 'coaching' approach to care. Sheila incorporates a client-centred empowerment approach in all aspects of her work and believes coaching is a missing link in our current health system.
To date, Sheila has been a secondary investigator on four research projects with her findings published peer-reviewed scientific journals. In 2014, she graduated from Duke University, completing the Integrative Medicine Health Coach Program. She was among the first cohort to successfully pass the American Board of Medicine Certification Examination for Health and Wellness Coaches, and one of only two Health Coaches in Canada with this level of expertise.
Sheila is the West Regional Consultant for Elder Abuse Ontario, a non-profit organization that aims to make Ontario a healthier place for aging individuals. For nearly 25 years, Sheila has developed, facilitated and evaluated health promotion initiatives geared to age related issues. For over a decade, she has also served as VON Canada’s National Seniors Wellness Project's Manager. In this role, Sheila assisted communities across the country to develop exercise programs, such as the VON SMART (Seniors Maintaining Active Roles Together) Programs®. These programs help combat social isolation and improve balance, cardiovascular health and strength in senior citizens. In 2010, Sheila’s work was recognized in the Chief Public Health Officer’s ‘Report on Public Health in Canada’.
Gateway is happy to have Sheila join the team of Research Chairs, all working to deliver on the mission to improve health and quality of life for rural residents through education, communication, and research. To learn more about Gateway’s projects, visit www.gatewayruralhealth.ca
Written by: Sarah Versteeg BSc (Hons), MSc, Administrative Lead at Gateway