Worry about aging parents is raising stress levels for Huron County’s sandwich generation. By the end of March, Rural Response for Healthy Children’s parent support team contacted over 200 families from their client list. Parents and caregivers expressed a multitude of factors causing more stress during the pandemic. Juggling their family needs at home while also checking in on aging parents, undertaking a list of to-dos to support their aging parents to isolate, worry about the virus and the longevity of the new normal are heavy weights.
In early March, pre-pandemic, Rural Response for Healthy Children (RRHC) received approval from the federal government’s New Horizons for Seniors program to build understanding and awareness about grandparents who are raising their grandchildren in Huron County. By early April, the project funding was leveraged to provide immediate pandemic support to Huron County seniors who isolated at home to decrease their risk of exposure to coronavirus. “This was our chance to respond to what the support team was hearing from parents as a major stressor in their lives,” according to Selena Hazlitt, RRHC’s Executive Director. $5000 was immediately transferred to OneCare’s grocery delivery efforts and collaboration was struck with Huron Food Distribution Center to provide food to grandparents who are raising grandchildren as well as weekly support and provision of masks.
As a follow-up to the initial funding, in September 2020, the federal government provided RRHC with additional funds from the New Horizons for Seniors program. These funds are being used to build opportunities for seniors to stay connected during the second wave of the pandemic. It is anticipated that by providing $3000 to the ‘Lonely No More’ program, developed by Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health, some of the stress of parents/caregivers who continue to worry about their aging parents will be alleviated.
The ‘Lonely No More’ program is an excellent example of a proven model that is responds to the needs of isolated seniors. The ‘Lonely No More’ program consists of weekly teleconference calls between isolated older adults facilitated by trained community members (peer facilitators). These peer facilitators are trained in resource navigation, health coaching dialogues, elder abuse bystander prevention, peer support and the program’s outreach model.
‘Lonely No More’ was originally piloted in 2019 to combat loneliness and social isolation felt among rural older adults. During the pilot, the program demonstrated success in providing rural older adults the ability to participate in a free phone based, peer support program that addressed their need for socialization and provided rural older adults a chance to take leadership positions within their community. A number of positive impacts were seen during the pilot program such as the creation of new points of support for rural older adults, created a sense of connection, links between rural older adults through new peer relationships were improved and feelings of self-worth and giving back to the community were created. Due to the positive impacts the program’s peer support model and community interest, the program was offered again this year. With the additional sense of distance and isolation associated with the COVID-19 health pandemic it has been a welcomed service in our surrounding rural communities.
Executive Director, Rural Response for Healthy Children
Research Chair of Rural Coaching, Board Director & Project Lead, Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health