A helping hand for Alberta seniors

April 11, 2022

A helping hand for Alberta seniors
As Canadians live longer lives, an ageing population provides numerous challenges. Besides the economic sustainability of caring for the elderly, there is the less apparent but equally troubling concern of quality of care outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many seniors opting to forego long-term care and embrace ageing in place. This trend, coupled with the rise in the senior population, is increasing the number and need for family support from people who are usually unprepared for their new role as caregivers.

To address these pressing needs, modern and compassionate education programs like NorQuest College’s Family Caregiver Wellness Initiative (FCWI) are needed more now than ever. The FCWI helps caregivers navigate health care systems, learn coping mechanisms, and improve their skill-based knowledge. NorQuest offers a wide range of workshops taught by experienced healthcare professionals to help caregivers gain the confidence and knowledge they need to care for a loved one at home and/or needing end-of-life care.

Besides providing this education to urban audiences, NorQuest has adopted a responsive approach to meet the demands of rural communities with limited or no access to the internet.

On March 14, 2022, the FCWI project team, led by Rosario Vasquez, Project Controller, and Anusha Udawatta, Health Projects, held its first in-person session in Vulcan, Alberta. This session marked the end of over three years of dedicated online learning, and the official kick-start of the hybrid model envisioned for future workshop offerings.

Vulcan is a small community located between Calgary and Lethbridge on Highway 23. The community has a modest population size of 1,917 residents with a median age of 52.3 years. The 2016 census data reveals that approximately 56% of the population falls within the 15 to 64 age group, with 41% being 50 to 64 years. Also, approximately 32% of the total population is 65 years and older. Vulcan provides a more or less textbook example of the needs FCWI wants to support.

“It was beautiful and eye-opening to see the culture of this smaller rural community and how information is passed on,” says Vasquez. “Many of them attended because they had heard about it from a friend. Our goal is to have our workshops available to all family caregivers – no matter where they live in Alberta.”

“Often times, it is taking a trip outside of your comfort zone that builds the necessary bridges of understanding and appreciation,” says Udawatta. “Our trip to Vulcan was a wonderful reminder of how our seniors are resilient and looking to be heard, and this is no different in urban or rural communities. This type of outreach really underpins the saying, ‘we get as much as we give’ and the seniors in the town of Vulcan and community members have left a spark in me to continue this work.”

This picture of an ageing community is not exclusive to Vulcan. A high median age is increasingly becoming the norm in rural areas as young people abandon these rural communities in search of employment. According to the Conference Board of Canada’s report on Alberta’s rural communities, “The proportion of rural Alberta’s population aged 65 and over is already higher than in the province...” It is projected that this will exceed 20% by 2035. Also, according to the 2007 General Social Survey, one in four persons providing care were over the age of 65 years, and persons providing care were most likely to be friends (14%), extended family (11%), and neighbours (5%). Observations from the team’s visit to Vulcan corroborate the suppositions above and show why programs like Family Caregiver Wellness Initiative are necessary.

"Never have I ever heard someone say, 'these workshops are not needed',” says Danielle Moffatt, Project Coordinator, FCWI. “Caregivers are generally excited about the workshops and they are keen on improving their knowledge and skills. They also love the human-centred approach of our workshops where they can share their specific concerns with a health care provider."

NorQuest College has risen to the challenge of meeting the needs of rural communities and will continue to put in the work needed to build caregiver competencies throughout Alberta.