Addressing social isolation in seniors has been identified as a global priority however being a senior when caring for a family member/friend in need adds to the risk of social isolation.
Family caregivers represent almost 30% of Toronto’s population, providing unpaid care to those who need assistance due to a health condition, disability, dementia or other age-related challenges. Caregiving is rewarding but it can also be emotionally, physically and financially stressful. Many caregivers feel socially isolated and unsupported. Some do not even recognize that caregiving is a distinct role, separate from being a good friend, child, parent or spouse. They are often not recognized for their role or perceived as a population in need of care.
“Socializing with family or friends became too difficult to organize. I was frustrated, angry, and exhausted. The first person, who asked how I was feeling, was my pharmacist when I handed her a prescription for an antidepressant”.
ENRICHES is an initiative funded in part by the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program. It is a collaborative of five partnering organizations coming together to reduce social isolation in caregivers aged 55+ in Toronto.
The collective partners include: Alzheimer Society Toronto, Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario, North York Community House, WoodGreen Community Services and the Reitman Centre at Sinai Health System which had the dual role as a partner and as the backbone lead responsible for facilitating and mobilizing collective activities and outcomes. Other consulting partners included the International Federation on Aging and Innoweave.
Using a collective impact model approach ENRICHES brought together healthcare and community leads through four core strategies:
- Identify – Proactive identification of caregivers in need of support through creation of a large network of partners. This involved stretching beyond the usual partnerships to include faith based organizations, pharmacies, libraries, schools and more.
- Engage – Engaging caregivers in various activities offered by the ENRICHES partners to address social isolation from different angles such as: Recreational activities, caregiver skill building, health and well-being, language literacy, technology literacy and financial empowerment.
- Connect – All of ENRICHES partners provided some form of system navigation to help connect caregivers to other services/programs that could help bridge barriers to social participation.
- Build – building capacity and awareness throughout the healthcare system and community through two main activities:
- Providing training and education to healthcare providers and community volunteers on how to better identify and respond to caregivers in need.
“I am going to be sympathetic, actively listen, and learn about the needs and interests of caregivers. Also, look out for what caregiver needs are or any signs of abuse.”(healthcare provider)
- Conducting a public Awareness campaign to bring awareness to caregiver isolation and needs through: social media, Toronto Transportation Commission Ad Campaign, community engagements and café’ conversations with stake holders and the Municipal Celebration of National Caregiver Day at Toronto City Hall for two years in a row.
“Partnering with ENRICHES has allowed us to feel more connected to all the other programs serving the caregiving community. It opens up opportunities to discover new approaches and new ways to do things.”(Community partner)
Since its launch in Nov’ 2015 ENRICHES has:
- Created a network of over 240 organizations and stakeholders across Toronto
- Engaged over 6,000 caregivers and connected them to services
- Trained over 2,180 professionals and over 700 volunteers
Evaluation employed a mixed method approach. Quantitative ENRICHES evaluation data showed a statistically significant positive impact on the level of isolation experienced by caregivers who participated in the programs, their ability to participate in activities meaningful to them and to get support when they need it. Qualitative data supported conclusions that programs expanded caregiver social networks; connected caregivers to community organizations; enhanced family relationships; and instilled self-care and coping practices.
“I have benefited from this program. I think that all senior caregivers could have a great experience here. These kind of programs for caregivers give courage, comfort and strength to people.”(Caregiver)
ENRICHES collaboration with City of Toronto has contributed to a recommendation for a City based caregiver strategy under the newly adopted Toronto Senior Strategy 2.0.
Currently ENRICHES serves as the lead for the Toronto Caregiver Collaboration Forum working closely with the City of Toronto and 25 other organizations and caregivers in creating a Toronto based caregiver strategy.