A provincial program aimed at making it easier for seniors to stay in their own homes is coming to Prince George next year.
Funded by the provincial government and being co-ordinated by the United Way of the Lower Mainland, the Better at Home program will offer services like transportation for grocery shopping or light housekeeping help to seniors who request assistance.
"If you would ask seniors would you stay at home or go to an institution, seniors will say 'we'd rather stay at home,' " Better at Home provincial project manager Christien Kaaij said in a phone interview. "Research has shown if seniors stay longer at home, they're generally healthier and better connected to their friends, families and community."
The aim to both help seniors with simple, non-medical tasks around the house, but also reduce the isolation they can feel if living alone. In addition to transportation and house work, Better at Home can also provide seniors with friendly visits.
"There is less isolation [among seniors in the program] and if people are isolated, they die sooner," she said. "Having someone coming over to visit, really helps breaks that cycle of isolation."
Prince George is one of more than 60 communities in B.C. where Better at Home will be rolled out over the next few years. Each community is eligible for a grant of up to $100,000 to get the program up and running.
The first step to get the Prince George program off the ground is to hire a community developer who will talk with local seniors about what the needs are in the community and what local agency will best be able to deliver them.
"As you can imagine it is different in every community," Kaaij said. "Sometimes maybe there's a really great volunteer transportation system already existing in that community, so that service isn't needed, but maybe they need more friendly visiting or maybe they'll need some light yard work."
Prince George has the added benefit of having data collected from the now completed Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) pilot project available to Better at Home. IADL looked at how similar simple non-medical assistance could be provided to help seniors. UNBC social work professor Dawn Hemingway who worked on IADL in collaboration with Northern Health, the United Way of Northern B.C., Providence Health Care and Prince George Council of Seniors, said results from the first phase of the study have already been shared.
"These initiatives are all contributing to northern seniors having the opportunity to stay in their homes as long as possible and to experience a better overall quality of health and life," Hemingway said in an email.
Data from the first phase of the IADL program showed that seniors who had received the services had better health and emotional well-being.
"There appeared to be a self-reported decrease in hospital visits, but subsequent analyses is needed to confirm this preliminary finding," Hemingway said. "When designing non medical home support services, there is a need to partner such services with health authorities to reduce duplication of assessments, to minimize confusion among clients, and to optimize the sharing of information."
Kaaij hopes to have a community developer hired this spring and have a local agency selected by the fall so that Better at Home can begin offering service in January 2014.
The method of delivery for the program varies from community to community and the shape of the Prince George program will ultimately be determined by the local service provider.
"We have seen communities where there are volunteers who come in and do everything and we've seen communities where it's ready hard to find people who do the light yard work and they've used paid staff or sub-contracted with an organization they've screened to provide those services," Kaaij said.
According to the most recent figures provided to the United Way there about 8,000 seniors in Prince George and of those 13 per cent are considered low income. There's no formal age requirements for who can receive the service, but it's up to the local agency to determine eligibility criteria.
The north differs demographically from other parts of the province because the seniors are on average younger.
"We think that people move away or just don't get that old in the north," Kaaij said.