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Sudbury project combats isolation, loneliness among seniors

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A three-year pilot project in Sudbury to help seniors living with isolation and loneliness is expanding.

The Parkside Older Adult Centre started the Social Prescribing program three years ago to have healthcare providers refer older adults to its programs to improve their mental and physical health.

On Thursday, the centre held an advanced guitar class, one of more than 300 programs it offers. Officials at the centre said a pilot project that launched three years ago offers support and programming to seniors living in isolation and experiencing the effects of loneliness.

“The negative health impacts of social isolation are akin to smoking 17 cigarettes in a day,” said Parkside manager John Richer.

“Social isolation speeds up the mental and physical decline and drastically reduces the quality of life for these seniors.”

Dr. Peter Zalan, Parkside Centre board member, said loneliness has major health effects.

“Being alone is actually even a more serious illness than having heart disease or diabetes and causes premature death,” Zalan said.

“So we need to help these folks.”

From a space to learn and work on stained glass and wood carving, there are many options for older adults at the centre.

In the past three years, officials said more than 200 older adults have been referred to the program.

“Social prescribing is a program that enlists the help of doctors and other healthcare practitioners to provide people who present or patients who present as lonely or isolated with a prescription for social activities,” Richer said.

“It’s been a great success,” Zalan added.

“Of the 90 seniors centres in Ontario that have started this, we are in the top three in all of Ontario.”

The social prescribing program is being continued for the next four years and officials said there are plans to expand it.

It will work with local community groups to offer support and programming to seniors in need of socialization living in outlying communities in the Greater Sudbury area.

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