The risk of experiencing social isolation increases dramatically as we age, particularly for people within racialized groups and individuals impacted by dementia. But research tells us that when we spend more time with loved ones and remain connected to the community, it’s better for our overall health and cognition.
Waterloo Region has a diverse, and aging population. Recent census data shows that Waterloo has become the first city in the region with more seniors (those 65 and older) than kids. Add to that a growing number of Canadians being diagnosed with dementia, and it highlights the importance of community members and organizations working together to ensure older adults are connected and able to access the supports and services they need to thrive.
That was the focus of Isolation 2 Inclusion, a two-day case competition hosted by the Supporting Inclusion through Intergenerational Partnerships program at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging.
More than 30 participants – students and community-based organizations – from across Waterloo Region worked together to understand and create tangible solutions to address challenges related to engaging older adults, specifically people living with dementia and from racialized groups, in community programming.
One student participant was pleased with what a great learning opportunity the event was. “I found it really insightful to explore how there are many steps involved in implementing a seemingly simple idea to address the needs of older adults with dementia.”
Collaboration and learning
To kick-off the two day event, which took place April 15 and 22, 2023, attendees welcomed guest speakers, Navjot Gill, Ph.D candidate, University of Waterloo, Sarah Jones, Minds in Motion Coordinator, Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington, and Dorcas Ndiangui, Registered Nurse, and board member for African Family Revival Organization, for a one-hour panel discussion about how dementia is impacting racialized older adults and why older adults from these communities may experience unique barriers when accessing programming and support in the community. Event attendees also participated in a Minds in Motion activity break, led by Sarah Jones, to get a better understanding of what community programming for older adults living with dementia looks like.
Facilitators Mairin Scannell and Heather Thompson walked students through the process of brainstorming, developing ideas, prototyping, receiving feedback, and how to successfully prepare for a pitch presentation.
Student teams worked with one of five local organizations to create a product or solution that would address the organization’s unique problem; that idea was then pitched to a panel of judges for the opportunity to secure financial funding to develop the product or solution.
The five organizations – African Women’s Alliance of Waterloo Region, City of Cambridge, ComForCare Home Care, Engage Rural, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery – presented the teams with some big challenges, including: how to engage older adults as facilitators in art-based activities, improving communication among rural communities, how to age at home, and increasing awareness about age-friendly programs and events.
Despite learning about many possible causes to social isolation, each came up with tangible solutions that will make an impact in each organization and the lives of older adults.
Funding supports product development
We are pleased to announce Scorpion Grass, working with ComForCare Home Care, secured first prize for their campaign focused on aging at home, and how ComForCare Home Care can make that a reality. Rounding out the top three were: Catalysts and Art Crawlers.
These teams have secured funding to develop their product or solution and will have three months to finalize it. After that, the teams will share their final product during a virtual webinar with competition attendees.
Not only did the Isolation 2 Inclusion case competition offer the students an opportunity to secure funding to develop their product or solution, it was also a chance to make a difference in the community.
“I didn’t go to post-secondary school in my home town, so I didn’t have the social accountability but being part of this event has helped me feel like I belong more and this is my community,” shared student participant Stephanie Pye. “Learning is bigger than my textbook, it’s about community, that’s what matters.”
Participating organizations shared similar sentiments.
“I have always been inspired by students, and want to continue to learn. I came in with a challenge and have all these minds working to solve it,” said Kristine Alison, Engage Rural. “It’s a chance for me to learn from the students.”
For more information about how you can help identify and support older adults who may be experiencing social isolation, read our Community Conversation Guide.
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