older adults having tea

Supporting Older Adults’ Health & Well-Being

Neighbours (formerly known as Neighbours Helping Neighbours)

Neighbours logo

Social isolation has been called the next major public health epidemic. Approximately 20% of older Canadians report feeling frequently lonely - in Ontario, this represents almost 500,000 older adults. Being lonely and isolated has a profound impact on physical and mental health and overall quality of life, and is linked to health system utilization.

Isolation is associated with increased emergency department admissions, longer lengths of stay and delayed discharges, all of which contribute to overcrowded hospitals and the growing practice of hallway medicine.

We know that people who are connected to their peers and community are happier, enjoy better health, use fewer health services and recover faster when they do get sick.

Despite the growing evidence that “connection matters”, social isolation receives little attention from government and health providers. The Neighbours initiative was developed to address this gap.  

Neighbours is designed to improve people’s quality of life by creating connected communities where people care for one another and neighbourhood assets are activated to meet resident’s health and social needs. 

We do this by:

  • Empowering participants to define, communicate and direct their health and social needs. We work with participants to understand what they need to be healthy? To feel connected and fulfilled? To age well at home?

  • Activating neighbourhoods, informal resources and networks, including peer-to-peer support, to help participants access the supports they want and need. For example, Neighbours may host social events to bring people together, connect participants to community resources, and encourage people to share their time and talents with each other.

  • Collecting and using comprehensive health and social data to inform planning and service delivery. With help from the data, we can track unmet needs of a building or a community. This information can inform which services are provided and how.

  • Creating pathways between formal and informal supports so participants always feel supported and no one falls through the cracks. Once we organizations and providers understand needs, they can work together to collectively care for people along their health journey.

Already active in 5 sites across Toronto, our goal is to spread Neighbours to 100 sites over the next three years. To help us scale and spread this initiative, we are working with technology and health system partners to develop a digital backbone that will include a full suite of tools for both community residents and the frontline providers that support them. We are also developing a Neighbours Toolkit to support organizations’ successful implementation of Neighbours in their communities. Check back soon to access this invaluable resource!

As we age, our social circles often get smaller. However, with a little bit of effort and thoughtful planning, we can help all older adults feel connected and have easy access to the care and supports they need to age well at home. Broad adoption of Neighbours across the province has the potential to make this happen. Help us spread the word about this great initiative across Ontario! 

To date, we have developed the following resources:

  • People cards to describe the individual experiences of older adults

  • Created with seniors, this community profile includes both the formal and informal supports and services they use. The Profile details the type and location of nearby resources, as well as places of interest 

  • Facilitation guides that walk collaborators through the Neighbours implementation process  

  • Data collection tools that help us understand older adults’ quality of life, community connections, and talents and interests

  • Maps of local resources to support the navigation of nearby resources in an easy-to-understand format

  • Building profiles that inform services providers about who is living in a given building and suggests opportunities for tenant engagement and leadership

Resource: Data Collection Tools

Resource: Data Collection Tools

These tools are only the beginning. We are developing a core curriculum of tools and approaches suitable for adaptation in other communities. We plan on expanding to include vital informal support systems surrounding older adults, such as volunteers from community associations, social activity groups, faith-based organizations and local schools.