Marta has worked with the Centre for Elder Research at Sheridan College for five years as an applied research project coordinator. Having completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of Toronto, and her Social Service Worker – Gerontology diploma from Sheridan College, Marta brings her applied research experience and practical gerontology training to the various projects she coordinates and is involved in at the Centre. Some of the research areas she has worked in include: physical activity and lifelong learning program development and testing, the use of technology to support cognitive health and aging-in-place and exploring the aging experiences of older immigrants.
Building connected communities: Developing strategies to better identify and support socially isolated and/or lonely immigrants 65+
Immigration represents a major life change that can be challenging because of language barriers, loss of status (real or perceived), disrupted social networks, conflicting family values and cultural differences. There is a growing prevalence of social isolation and loneliness (SI/L) among older adults in general. Research demonstrates that older immigrants, both settled and recent, may experience an increased risk.
Using a social innovation lens and, working with a college-community research collaborative, we sought to better understand the experiences of immigrants 65+ living in Peel and Halton Regions, the supports that are currently available and the gaps that need to be addressed. Research questions included:
- What do older immigrants report as the barriers to, and opportunities for, forming meaningful social connections in their communities?
- What are the most effective strategies (new or currently in use) for identifying and supporting older immigrants at risk for loneliness and/or social isolation?
Data were collected through an environmental scan, stakeholder interviews as well as surveys and individual interviews with older immigrants. Despite our best efforts, older immigrants who are truly SI or L are by definition difficult to reach. To address this challenge, we made use of a variety of outreach methods including engaging community gatekeepers, a targeted neighbourhood approach and snowball sampling.
The knowledge translation phase of this project focused on designing, implementing and evaluating culturally sensitive strategies to increase the ability of the community to identify support gaps and respond to the needs of older immigrants. Through collaboration and consultation with stakeholder groups we developed a toolkit of SI and L resources, recommendations and training materials. The tools in this kit were developed to support community organizations in identifying potentially at-risk older immigrants, assessing their needs and barriers, improving service accessibility and providing culturally appropriate social engagement opportunities.
Where appropriate, the toolkit encourages the assessment of current policies or the development of new and culturally-competent policies that identify vulnerable groups, strive to reduce barriers and increase service accessibility for all. Distribution of the toolkit to not only frontline and management-level agency staff, but also community volunteers, healthcare practitioners, business owners and faith leaders fosters a community-based and community-wide approach to reducing inequality and ensuring supportive environments for older immigrants.