Where do Bayfield Residents Look for Information and Help to Face the Challenges of Aging in Place?
Roma Harris, Home4Good Communications Committee, March 2016
Home4Good is a volunteer community group formed in 2014 with representatives from across the Bayfield community, including residents, service agencies and local businesses. We want to learn about and respond to challenges facing people wishing to remain in the Bayfield area as they grow older. Since December 2015, Home4Good’s Information & Communication Committee has been conducting focus group interviews with representatives of formal and informal organizations across the community. Participants were presented one of three brief scenarios describing a situation that might affect an older person living in Bayfield, then asked about the kinds of help might be needed in that situation and how one might go about trying to find that help. In all, 34 people took part (23 women and 11 men) from 11 different groups.
WHAT DID WE FIND?
Participants understood what the people described in the scenarios might require. They named various potential sources of help and pointed out problems with locating or using some of them. However, unless the participants had direct experience with the situations described and/or connections with the health and/or social services sector, their awareness of many of the resources available was low.
Many participants identified challenges finding relevant, local information about where to go for help or connecting with the right kind of help. They identified 47 different potential sources of information and help, many of which would be unlikely to provide the types of help needed. In terms of finding aids, most were unfamiliar with the province’s 211 helpline and online database of community and social services. They expressed strong dissatisfaction with the phone book, describing it as ‘useless’. And, while most perceive the internet as a potentially valuable resource for help in these situations, some participants said they wouldn’t use it themselves because they don’t have a computer or aren’t sure what search terms to use, especially for social services. Others recommended online search strategies that suggest unfamiliarity with the way web browsers function (i.e., that useful searches are focused and geographically specific).
WHAT IS EXPECTED OF SERVICE PROVIDERS?
Although some participants identified relevant sources of help for people in the scenarios, many were unaware of the services available. Considerable confusion exists over the roles of some providers. This as particularly the case for OneCare, the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), and family doctors. In addition, some participants disagreed about whether certain sources would or would not be helpful. However, Michael’s Pharmacy was almost universally praised. Some participants emphasized access to services for which the person would pay while others emphasized the role of volunteers in providing short-term and ongoing support.
WHAT CAN WE DO? OVERCOMING ROADBLOCKS TO HELP
Studies of help-seeking tell us that series of roadblocks typically arise when people are looking for help to manage everyday challenges.
- We may not know precisely what information we need to solve a problem
- We may know precisely what information or help is needed, but we don’t know where to locate it
- We may not know that information relevant to our problem is available
- The information needed doesn’t exist
Additionally, when looking for help from service providers:
- We may not receive any information because we don’t undertake a search – we don’t know where to begin, lack confidence, or don’t have the mental or physical ability to search
- We may not consult the correct channels, don’t use effective search strategies (e.g., on the Internet), don’t obtain relevant or useful information and, as a result, give up the search
- We may receive useful information eventually, but encounter long delays
- We may connect with the ‘right’ provider but receive the ‘wrong’ information
- We may not feel helped because we didn’t experience a warm, non-judgmental response from the service provider
Our focus group interviews suggest that at some point nearly all of these roadblocks may be at play in Bayfield for older people trying to ‘age in place’ or those supporting them. However, our overall results indicate that there is not a problem of knowing what’s needed. Instead, the major problem of ‘connecting to help’ arises from not always knowing where to find the information or supports needed or how to search for them effectively.
The focus group participants made important suggestions about how we, as a community, might tackle the ‘information/connection’ problem.
These fall generally into four categories:
- Creating lists of relevant contacts
- Establishing information ‘brokers’ who will help people to connect with agencies, services and other sources of help
- Disseminating information on relevant topics to the broader community
- Building and maintaining strong social networks. Useful information is informally exchanged through these networks and alerts us to people who are in need of help, emotional support and social contact
Have a Plan!
Acknowledging the loss of capacity that comes with old age can be painful. As a result, we sometimes ignore the need to act until it becomes very difficult (e.g., by postponing a move because we don’t want to leave our homes, or not acknowledging that we need help to manage daily life). As one person noted, ‘we should prepare for old age by making an effort to maintain/rebuild relationships – it’s like exercising to stay healthy’.
Bringing Services to Those Who Need Them
All participants seemed more than willing to help out neighbours and friends in the situations described in the scenarios. But should volunteers be expected to help people on an ongoing basis with their housekeeping and personal care or to take on the responsibility of regularly driving people to perform everyday tasks? As one participant pointed out, a good neighbour or friend ‘can do many tasks but can burn out’. To avoid this, some respondents emphasized the importance of helping the other person ‘get their own support’ by:
- Advertising the unmet needs of seniors in the community as business opportunities
- Encouraging service providers to come to the people who need them, such as urging family health teams to ‘step up to provide in-home services rather than putting the person in the car and taking them somewhere’
- Urging institutions and professionals (financial, medical, legal) to bring services to Bayfield on a weekly or monthly basis.
Finally, the people who participated in the focus groups clearly recognize the importance of empathy, sensitivity and taking time to listen, no matter who it is that provides support to seniors in our community. As one respondent explained, ‘it requires some heart’.
Scenarios presented to focus groups:
Coping with an Unexpected Health Crisis. Imagine that your neighbour in Bayfield calls to say that she/he’s slipped on the ice and broken her leg. She’s in hospital just now but isn’t sure that she’ll be able to manage at home without some help until she’s back on her feet. Your neighbour is in her mid-70s and lives on her own and doesn’t have any close family members. As far as you know, she’s managed well in the past and she’s not asked you for help before. During the phone call she hasn’t asked you for anything other than to pick up her mail, but you have the impression that she’s looking for more support.
Is it Time to Move? Imagine that a couple you know in Bayfield seem to be having trouble keeping up with their property. They are in their 80s and, while they aren’t acutely ill, each of them has some health problems and they find it difficult to cut the grass and do other household chores. They don’t have any family members close by and you are concerned about how they’ll manage when it starts to snow. You’ve spoken to them about how they are managing and they seem worried about whether they’ll be able to cope much longer but they don’t want to leave their home.
Losing Mental Sharpness. Imagine that you have a friend who is living on his/her own in Bayfield. He has always been independent and capable, but lately you notice that he is showing signs of memory deterioration and is sometimes confused and unable to focus. Your friend doesn’t have any close family members. He laughs sometimes about forgetting things, but doesn’t seem aware of how much he has changed. He still drives. You are concerned about what will happen to him.