Clinic’s pilot project looks to keep seniors proactive

WHITE ROCK – They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away – and a doctor in White Rock is expanding on that idea.

Dr. Grace Park, a family physician on the peninsula for more than 25 years, has devoted the better part of the last five years at Fraser Health working as medical director for home health. As a family physician, Park said she’s responsible for the entire life span of her patients and in recent years, has come to see how easily frailty can develop as they reach 65 and beyond.

“It’s become really important to me to try and get to people at a stage where they’re still able to manage themselves and so that they can develop the lifestyles and habits that will keep them away from requiring acute care services. Because once they start going downhill it becomes a very rapid spiral downwards,” said Park.

White Rock’s Primary Care Access Clinic, located in the Uptown Medical centre on Johnston Road, is one of three test sites (the other two are in Langley) participating in a pilot project for Fraser Health focusing on “pre-frail” seniors.

Supported by the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement and partnering with a health authority in Halifax, N.S., Park said it’s a test of seeing two regions come together to share resources serving the same demographic of pre-frail seniors, typically aged between 45 and 65.

“With pre-frail we’re talking about people who are still fairly robust and able to do things for themselves and are still probably quite active in the community,” she said.

Patients will be assessed to determine their emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritual and vocational well-being. The doctor will then come up with a frailty index and then work with volunteer coaches in the community to develop a healthy exercise and diet plan.

After the assessment, volunteer coaches already familiar with resources and programs in the community, work with participants via weekly phone updates to keep patients on track.

Park said that her experience as a physician has taught her many of the barriers to health care include selfmotivation or a lack of knowledge about resources. Coaches can help in that regard.

“We need somebody to kind of hold hands and encourage people until it becomes a lifestyle.”

Park said utilizing volunteers in the community enables seniors in the program to become more socially active, a critical component to prevent isolation and increased mortality rates.

“It could be as simple as doing some exercise in your own home, and then it could be joining a group in the rec centre or it could be going with a walking club from the seniors resource centre.”

After a six-month period, during which time the patients receive support and coaching, Park said she hopes the project will show stability of frailty index or even

improvement. This proactive step means to address prefrail seniors before they become hospitalized or contract serious illnesses, preventing both acute and chronic health issues. It’s something Fraser Health has focused on in recent years to take away from the burden on the health-care system dealing with sudden illnesses.

Park noted that nearly one quarter of the current generation of seniors aged over 65 will be considered frail by the time they reach 85 by poor eating habits, isolation and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

As frailty sets in, seniors are less able to recover from falling down or preventing acute illness and as a result become less independent and more reliant on health care services.

Even people who don’t live in White Rock can get started on healthy choices, said Park. The provincial government has a program through Self Management B.C. called Active Choices.

Residents anywhere in the province can call the program and receive an exercise coach and instructions on how to lead the sort of lifestyle that prevents frailty.

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