Health promotion & chronic disease self-management

Health care providers and health authorities are challenged in their efforts to reach ethnocultural minority older adults and other marginalized populations to promote healthy behaviours and take of chronic diseases. Immigrant serving agencies often provide important mental and physical health supports and navigation assistance to their clients, with whom they have established trusting relationships. Partnerships with these agencies can augment their knowledge about and facilitate access to Canada’s many ethnocultural minorities.

Promoting mental health

The importance of understanding how mental health can best be promoted among immigrant older adults was one of two research priorities identified at the Knowledge.Power.Access stakeholder forum. With community partners, I formed the Punjabi Seniors Wellness Committee, which hosted two forums, held in Abbotsford and Surrey, BC, in April and May 2011. Their purpose was to explore the extent to which community services targeted at Punjabi seniors at these two locations address the social determinants of mental health. Older Punjabi men and women shared their experiences and identified the barriers to accessing such mental health supports. Service providers met in separate groups to discuss the nature and scope of the services they provide and their perceptions of the benefits to their older Punjabi clients. Findings and recommendations have been shared in a report, briefing note and a peer-reviewed publication. We also presented our findings at academic conferences and to different stakeholder groups, including policymakers invested in the mental health of immigrants.

Taking care of chronic disease

Understanding how immigrant older adults self-manage their chronic conditions was another research priority identified at the Knowledge.Power.Access stakeholder forum. A Chronic Disease working group composed of key stakeholders included provincial government decisionmakers. Our environmental scan revealed that the literature on chronic disease self-management support programs among ethnocultural minority older adults was sparse and uptake among them was typically low. Alternative models situated within a collective understanding of empowerment were indicated. Our Taking Care of Chronic Disease Workshop aimed to facilitate the exchange of ideas between 32 diverse Canadian stakeholders including immigrant older adults with chronic conditions and their friends and family members, policymakers, clinicians, multicultural settlement workers, and academics. This valuable exchange is captured in a report, and presentations including a videotaped webcast for the public. The workshop led to additional opportunities, such as the study and evaluation of the S4AC project, my collaboration on a series of projects focused on chronic disease self- management and its supports for marginalized populations with Dr. Sue Mills, and my service on advisory committees/reference groups on chronic disease among marginalized populations.

S4AC case study

The Seniors Support Services for South Asian Community (S4AC) project was developed to address the poor representation of Surrey’s numerous South Asian seniors in the city’s recreation and seniors’ facilities. The Parks, Recreation and Culture Department of the City of Surrey, and DIVERSEcity, a registered non-profit agency offering a wide range of services and programs to immigrant and refugee communities, collaborated to offer exercise activities that succeeded in engaging 100 Punjabi seniors annually. These efforts involved creative outreach, reduction of language and cultural barriers, provision of childcare for grandchildren, and offering programs in places where seniors naturally gather (e.g., parks, temples). Beyond exercise, the project has succeeded in facilitating the development of peer networks and close friendships among participants, and empowering the seniors to utilize existing community resources (pool, seniors centre, etc.), initiate activities on their own and socialize with other communities.

Our team conducted a research project to assess if and how the program supported Punjabi older adults to better self-manage their chronic conditions, which generated a report, a plain language lay summary and a peer-reviewed publication. A parallel goal was to conduct a process evaluation for the embedded funder, the United Way of the Lower Mainland. Additional outcomes included an invited presentation on the project findings as they related to the diversity goals of the City of Richmond.