Healthy Living in the North

Removing barriers to social isolation

This is the second in a series of posts that we’ll be sharing about social connections and healthy aging. Over the next three weeks, we want to see how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Woman pushing man in wheelchair from bus to seniors centre.

How can you ensure that your community is inclusive and that people of all ages are able to connect?

I’ve heard the term “social isolation” being used a lot lately, but what does it mean? And how does it affect my health and well-being and the health and well-being of my family and community?

According to the Federal / Provincial / Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors, social isolation happens when a person experiences less social contact than they would like, which may lead to negative impacts like poor health, loneliness or other emotional distress. I’m sure everyone has experienced feeling social isolated; I know I certainly have when I’ve moved away from family and friends to new communities. But did you know that seniors are more at risk of social isolation and the negative health impacts that come with it?

As part of the normal aging process, seniors experience changes that shrink social contacts and limit activities, such as physical changes (like illness or disability), changes to personal lives (like losing a partner and social connections), social changes (like poverty) and changes in the environment (like accessibility barriers in the environment). All of these changes increase seniors’ vulnerability to social isolation and the consequences – such as loneliness, depression, poor physical and mental health, and reduced quality of life – are significant.

I know the impacts of social isolation sound scary, but the good news is that we are social by nature and we can prevent social isolation through creating environments that support social inclusion. We all have a role to play!

Crowd of people at Prince George Terry Fox Run.

How can you take down barriers to social connections in your community? The next time that you head to a community event – like the Terry Fox Run in Prince George – ask a senior if they need a ride or invite a neighbour to come along!

Here are just a few suggestions that I can think of that promote social inclusion and support us all to stay connected to our families, friends and communities as we age:

  • Are you a member of a community group, sports team, or social group? Host an open house, invite a friend or co-worker to join, and create a welcoming environment for new members!
  • Heading to a community event like a concert, craft fair, or farmers market? Ask around to see if anyone needs a ride to or from the event. Invite a neighbour to go to the event with you.
  • Invite a colleague, senior, neighbour or family member to have coffee, lunch or dinner! Eating together is a social activity and an opportunity to catch up and share stories.
  • Volunteer in your community. You can support a cause you believe in, meet like-minded people, and connect with vulnerable community members!
  • Connect with your local government about how we can plan for an age-friendly community that prevents social isolation.

What do you think? Do you have any examples on how to create inclusive environments for seniors in northern B.C., reducing the harms associated with social isolation? If so, show us as part of our photo contest for your chance to share your community’s story and win!

Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 2 is: “Show us how your community is inclusive!” Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

About Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

Sabrina is the lead for healthy community development with local governments with Northern Health’s population health team. Sabrina was born and raised in Terrace and loves calling northern BC home. She has been with Northern Health since 2007 and is passionate about empowering, supporting and partnering with northern communities as we collaboratively work towards building healthier communities. In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, playing and (sometimes obsessively) watching sports, hiking, camping, traveling and exploring the amazing north.

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Youth falls: staying active and safe in the north

Families in Motion

Families in Motion teaches parents and children to play injury free.

When I was nine years old, my family went to Vancouver for a wedding. My three-year-old brother and I were playing in a house which was definitely not kid-friendly. We were upstairs and for some reason, my brother decided to go downstairs, but he tripped and went tumbling down. Everything happened so quickly; my childhood memories can recall every somersault motion as he rolled down the stairs. Being his big sister, I had this horrible feeling in my stomach because there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it at that point. Fortunately, he somehow came out of the incident unscathed and ended up at the bottom of the stairs without a scratch or a tear. We giggled about the incident after, but reflecting on it now, I realize how fortunate we are that he wasn’t seriously hurt. To this day, the thought of how my little brother could have been hurt still makes me shudder.

Families in Motion (FIM) is a program that tries to prevent incidents like the one my brother experienced and strives to provide a safe, injury-free environment. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the program with Cheryl Breitkreutz, North Peace Early Childhood Development Coordinator at FIM, and she told me how they help families like yours.

What does FIM offer?

Families in Motion is a partnership with not-for-profits to deliver a valuable opportunity for families to learn about the importance of gross motor activities and how to implement family fitness into their daily lives. We meet once a month at different locations around the community, free of charge, and offer a space where families can be active through interactive stations, obstacle courses, active games and soft play centres.

Why is it important for parents to check out FIM?

Providing a falls safe environment for children is an important preventive measure that minimizes risk of injury. As children explore their environment and try new skills, they don’t recognize hazards in their environment or other factors that may compromise their safety and well-being.  When setting up the physical layout we consider: age-appropriate design, adequate impact-absorbing surfaces around and beneath play structures, division of space into activity zones for different types of play, open sight lines and inspection/maintenance of equipment and play areas. Our volunteers teach and model equipment safety rules, and provide active supervision. In taking these precautions, families can focus on the experience of playing with their child and immerse themselves in the activity.

And how is it unique to northern BC?

Where for six months of the year the ground is covered by snow and the mercury drops far below zero, living in the north impacts the opportunity for children to engage in gross motor play. Families in Motion is a local initiative to get families moving, where parents lead by example and engage their children in being active as a family. Together they can experience physical activity in a safe environment out of the elements.

To learn more about this program, visit the Families in Motion website.

To enter Northern Health’s Falls Across the Ages contest, visit our contest page.

Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

About Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

Sabrina is the lead for healthy community development with local governments with Northern Health’s population health team. Sabrina was born and raised in Terrace and loves calling northern BC home. She has been with Northern Health since 2007 and is passionate about empowering, supporting and partnering with northern communities as we collaboratively work towards building healthier communities. In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, playing and (sometimes obsessively) watching sports, hiking, camping, traveling and exploring the amazing north.

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