Dr. Grace Park has worked with seniors for years, and is now working on a Community Connector programs around the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Dr. Grace Park has worked with seniors for years, and is now working on a Community Connector programs around the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health/Special to Langley Advance Times)

New service aims to give seniors social connections vital to health

Longer, healthier lives are linked to healthy social lives

Connection makes seniors healthier, while isolation puts them at risk.

That’s the idea behind a new program dubbed the Seniors Community Connector that is coming to Langley soon, as part of a partnership between Fraser Health and the United Way.

Family physician Dr. Grace Park, who has been working on the program, said that one of the biggest risks to seniors health, including physical health, mental health, and memory, is social isolation.

The Seniors Community Connector position in local communities, including Langley, is aimed at helping bring seniors together with activities and resources that can help keep them active, and sharp.

One method of keeping seniors healthy is “social prescribing,” Park explained, and that’s what the new connector positions are all about.

Just as a doctor would prescribe medicine, a social prescription is for human contact, volunteering, physical activity, or other needed social inputs that keep people healthy as they age. A prescription might be to join a hula hoop class or join a volunteer group.

Doctors can refer seniors to their local Community Connector, whose job is to put the senior in touch with activities, resources, and even financial help.

It’s intended for seniors who have become vulnerable due to the loss of a spouse, money problems, or even malnourishment. Seniors from some minority groups can be at an even bigger risk because their social pool may be smaller, Park said.

The benefit of the program is it creates a single point of contact. The Langley Division of Family Practice, which works with local GPs, will help with the program to ensure doctors are aware of the program.

“Social isolation has been shown to increase the likelihood of depression, dementia, and early death,” Park said.

Keeping people involved, via volunteering, exercise programs, or social activities, is the goal.

Having someone to talk to about their lives is one of the key areas, and activities with others can also help provide that.

That leads to better health outcomes.

“We also know there are barriers to seniors getting some exercise,” Park said.

There could be physical issues, problems with getting out of the house, or even cultural considerations. The Community Connector program is in part aimed at overcoming those issues.

In Langley, The Community Connector program is partnering with the Langley Seniors in Action Society, but it was not yet active as of September.

“It’s definitely coming in Langley,” Park promised.

Several other communities across the Lower Mainland have already seen the activation of their programs.

The Community Connector is partly funed by the Canadian Frailty Network, a variety of grants, Fraser Health, and the United Way.

Community Connector programs, sometimes dubbed Social Prescription services after their primary method of helping, are active in many Fraser Valley communities, including in Maple Ridge and Chilliwack already.

Park recently retired from her work as a family doctor, after spending 10 years as the regional medicatil director of Home Health.

She has spent years working with seniors on helping them to retain their independence and stay in their homes longer.

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