Social Prescribing: Addressing Social Needs

By Debra Sheets |  Lead Researcher & Founder |  Voices in Motion

Social prescribing is a care coordination model in which healthcare providers refer clients to a wellness navigator who explores and helps address the non-medical needs of the individual. The navigator meets with the individual to understand their concerns, interests and potential contributions. Navigators are knowledgeable about resources and opportunities in the community and collaborate with the client to create a social care plan to support their well-being. The goal is to co-design a personalized solution that empowers and engages the individual to contribute and participate in meaningful activities within their community.

Developed in the UK, social prescribing was quickly and widely adopted in response to the realization that 20% of patients were consulting their physician for social needs (e.g. loneliness which affects 1 in 3 older adults) rather than medical issues. In Canada, the first social prescribing program was launched in 2018 by the Alliance for Healthier Communities in Ontario. The 1-year pilot program was implemented by eleven Community Health Centres (CHC) and served over 1,100 clients with nearly 3,300 prescriptions. Findings showed a 49% decrease in loneliness, a 12% increase in mental health and a 19% increase in social activities. These promising results led the United Way of the Lower Mainland (British Columbia) to create a social prescribing program in 19 communities for older adults at risk for frailty. The program is currently underway and findings will be forthcoming in 2022.

Unfortunately, little attention has been paid so far to the social needs of persons living with dementia (PwD) and their care partners (CP). This is surprising since stigma associated with dementia is associated with higher risks of loneliness, social isolation and less social support. Persons with dementia often face negative responses from others which increases anxiety and lowers self-esteem. Maintaining social connections and participating in previously enjoyed activities can become a challenge which reduces quality of life. In short, social prescription for persons with dementia and their CP has great potential to support living well in the community. To address this gap in services, researchers at the University of Victoria have submitted a research proposal for a social prescribing program focusing on dementia. If successful, our social prescribing program will be launched in Fall 2022.