Nova Scotia

Program to ease loneliness for Richmond County seniors wraps up

The Mind Body Spirit project set up programs to bring seniors out of isolation and included a volunteer visitor program, dinners, music and technology initiatives.

One man, 94, now uses FaceTime from his nursing home to keep in touch with his son who lives away

Nearly 30 per cent of Richmond County's residents are older than 65. (Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

A yearlong project to ease loneliness and depression for Nova Scotia seniors in Richmond County wraps up this fall.

The Mind Body Spirit project set up pilot programs to bring seniors out of isolation and included a volunteer visitor program, dinners, music and technology initiatives.

"This is for seniors at risk of social isolation and therefore at risk of decreased mental health," said Dawn Ostrem, project co-ordinator.

"Richmond County is the canary in the coal mine for global aging population," she said. "It's got the second highest demographic for the number of seniors in Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia has the highest in Canada."

The population of Richmond County is approximately 8,900, and close to 30 per cent of its residents are over the age of 65.

iPads for seniors

Millie Hatt, Richmond County Literacy Network co-ordinator, was responsible for developing and implementing the Connecting Seniors Through Technology project, which included 31 seniors who were given iPads and connectivity for a year. 

They received instruction in their homes several times during the year so they could become familiar with the technology.

"We found the greatest benefit for this program here is that these seniors now have stronger and more frequent contact with family, friends and members of their community," said Hatt. 

Location, finances and mobility can contribute to the isolation of retirees on fixed incomes.

"Some of these seniors have physical disabilities, so they are not able to be out in the community," said Hatt. 

She said one man, who is 94 and lives in a nursing home, now uses FaceTime to talk to his son who lives away and travels frequently.

Grant for $140k

About 50 representatives from the various health, adult education and community groups involved will get together in Louisdale in October to put a plan in place to make sure the work done over the last year continues.

The one-year grant was worth $140,000.

It was provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness and the Municipality of the County of Richmond and administered by the Dr. Kingston Memorial Community Health Centre in L'Ardoise.

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Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith was born and raised in Cape Breton. She began her career in private radio in Sydney and has been with CBC as a reporter, early morning news editor and sometimes host since 1990.