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McMaster study aims to help older adults stay mobile and social

Aug 8, 2022

Rebecca Ganann



Some older adults face struggles with getting around in their home and neighbourhood. These challenges make it difficult for them to participate in community activities and supports.


By Rebecca Ganann

Helping empower older adult citizens to continue to live independently in their own homes and communities, for as long as possible, is a top priority for most of us. Being social and moving about physically can help maintain independence and quality of life. Yet older adults have experienced significant negative health and social impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that community programs can be highly effective in helping older adults stay mobile, maintain their health, and participate socially. However, we also know that many older adults face barriers to accessing them, especially now.

The benefits are only possible when programs are built to address the real barriers, including barriers to mobility, that people experience to access and participate in programs. Some older adults face struggles with getting around in their home and neighbourhood. These challenges make it difficult for them to participate in community activities and supports. So, we set out to learn how to help older adults overcome some of these challenges. Safe, equitable access to the program is central to this research.

Co-design is an approach that engages target populations and other stakeholders with researchers. Experiences of older adults and community service providers have been critical partners in this work. In partnership with older adults who live in your community, we aimed to co-design a new program that aligns with and builds on existing community programs, addresses service gaps, and meets community needs. We have completed the co-design phase and are currently in the second phase of implementing and evaluating the intervention.

We are currently recruiting people 55 and older in the Strathcona and Dundurn neighbourhoods in Hamilton. Starting this Fall, we will move to delivering the program in the Corktown, Stinson, Durand, Burkholme, Macassa, Corman, Kentley and Riverdale West neighbourhoods. The EMBOLDEN study program will be offered online at first (with a device lending library, for those who may need it). Delivering online at first will allow older adults who may be staying home because of the pandemic to participate and connect with others.

The study, a randomized controlled trial being conducted in the real world, will evaluate the EMBOLDEN program. In Hamilton, the research is happening in partnership with older adult community members; the City of Hamilton (including public health, libraries, recreation, and public transit); COMPASS Community Health; YMCA; YWCA; United Way of Hamilton, Burlington, and Brantford; Good Shepherd; and St. Matthew’s House. The research focuses on proactive community-based solutions to improve the health of aging populations and assist with system issues (breaking down barriers that hinder older people from participating in community activities, both socially and physically).

The program was also designed based on the best available research evidence. From research we know that group-based nutrition education with tools for change (e.g., goal setting, interactive cooking activities) may increase healthy eating and reduce nutrition risk. And group-based physical activity programs that combine different types of exercise are most effective in improving mobility in older adults.

The researchers will examine both how effective the program is (what impacts it has on the health and well-being of older adults) and how it is implemented and adapted in each community. Exploring how feasible, acceptable, and effective the program is for older adults will provide a foundation to assess the potential to sustain the program and test it in other communities.

We would like to find out if participating in a community-based healthy aging program designed with older adults will improve physical and community mobility, nutrition, and social participation, thus enabling them to continue leading healthy independent lives in their own communities in Hamilton.

Rebecca Ganann RN, PhD is the EMBOLDEN Study Co-Lead, Co-Scientific Director of the Aging, Community and Health Research Unit, Co-Lead of the McMaster Collaborative for Health & Aging and Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, McMaster University.

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