Culturally Focused Social Prescribing for Older Adults

Loneliness and social isolation have emerged as serious challenges, disproportionately affecting older adults. In an era marked by a growing need for innovative solutions, the concept of Social Prescribing has taken center stage, offering a dynamic approach to enhancing the health and wellbeing of seniors. Beyond this, an even more powerful tool:  culturally focused social prescribing poised to transform our communities.

Social prescribing is a holistic approach that works in harmony with conventional medical interventions by integrating activities such as arts, culture, nature, and social engagement into healthcare plans. This approach aims to address social needs by connecting people to activities that align with individual interests and goals. In this model, healthcare providers can formally refer patients to social and community -based programs, thereby empowering people to acquire new skills, engage in meaningful activities, forge stronger connections with their communities and, since social prescribing plans are co-designed, help them to manage their own health. For physicians, it is a game-changer. 

"Social prescribing empowers us to address older adults' holistic wellbeing, going beyond medications and treatments," said Dr. Lara Kent at Centretown Community Health Centre . “This has become an important tool, particularly when we are dealing with people that are isolated and alone, factors that have a great impact on health. It feels good to have something that really makes a difference.”

For underrepresented communities however, this may require a different approach, one that considers the limitations of a health care system based on Eurocentric foundations. Recognizing this, the Alliance for Healthier Communities, through its Black Health Strategy, is pioneering a groundbreaking initiative: Black-focused Social Prescribing. The goal is to create a culturally appropriate model based in Black and Afrocentric values and principles, a holistic approach to improve the health of people in Black communities. As this initiative unfolds across four Community Health Centers in Ontario, it holds the promise of showing a path forward for tailored social prescribing programs.

Culture, as a social prescription, is a large part of the kinds of programs offered. This means prescribing cultural activities that connect people to the vibrancy and strengths of their own communities and, in doing so, enhancing their overall health. One such prescription saw a group of clients attending the play "Da Kink in My Hair" followed by a meal at a Black-owned restaurant and open discussions on the play's content. 

Renika Hall, a link worker at Black Creek Community Health Centre, affirms the importance of this kind of cultural relevance in programming. "I work closely with older adults and Black families, connecting them to community resources and programs at Black Creek and our community partners, and I know that this enhances social and emotional health," says Hall. "I've also noticed the significance of creating spaces for different generations to connect, it truly makes a remarkable impact. Even now, I continue to hear stories about attending 'Da Kink in My Hair'. The seniors who participated walked away with a sense of revitalization and purpose."

TAIBU Community Health Centre has introduced a Kemetic yoga program, providing an additional opportunity for Black seniors. "This ancient practice from Egypt not only nurtures physical health but also fosters a sense of cultural connection and self-awareness," says Tameika Shaw, program manager at TAIBU. "Through social prescribing we have been able to offer our seniors a sense of belonging, enhancing their overall quality of life."

Sabrina Morrison, the Black Focused Social Prescribing Navigator at TAIBU that organized the program also talks about the impact to participants.  “The seniors involved left energized and had a lot of fun.  I think it was an important event on many levels including for developing a sense of connection with our community.”

Recognizing the unique needs of older adults, social prescribing becomes a powerful tool for improving the health and wellbeing of seniors. This approach not only helps individuals but also strengthens communities and supports our overburdened healthcare systems. Culturally focused social prescribing goes even further, offering a hopeful path toward a better and more satisfying life for older adults by tackling issues like loneliness, sense of belonging, and addresses factors affecting health such as racism. This is especially important in our diverse society, where our aging population can benefit greatly. As we move forward, it's crucial to keep adapting and improving these programs to ensure that every older adult gets the care and support they need for a healthier, more fulfilling life.

TAIBU Community Health Centre Kimetic Yoga Program

ABOUT THE ALLIANCE FOR HEALTHIER COMMUNITIES 

The Alliance for Healthier Communities is the voice of a vibrant network of community-governed primary health care organizations that serve diverse communities across the province. These organizations share a commitment to advancing health equity through the delivery of comprehensive primary health care. 

To learn more about our Social Prescribing Initiatives or join the community of practice, click here:  https://www.allianceon.org/Social-Prescribing

References:

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Social isolation and loneliness in older adults: Opportunities for the health care system. National Academies Press.

Bhatti, S., Rayner, J., Pinto, A. D., Mulligan, K., & Cole, D. C. (2021). Using self-determination theory to understand the social prescribing process: a qualitative study. BJGP open, 5(2).

Black Health Committee, (2022). The Black Health Strategy

Alliance for Healthier Communities (2020). Black-Focused Social Prescribing Project Charter