This past year, Dr. Paula Rochon and Rachel Savage, Ph.D. from the Women’s Age Lab at Women’s College Hospital received funding for their Healthy Cities Grant. The proposal, supported by Diabetes Action Canada, received six years of funding from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The research team will study Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs). NORCs are a building or community where a high proportion of older adults reside but which was not originally designed to support their needs.
This research study will work to find solutions to improve aging in place opportunities and to ensure that older adults have a voice and choice over the support they receive as they age. Older adults overwhelmingly want to age in their own homes, but many are unable to do this when their safety and independence is compromised by loneliness, social isolation, declining health and reduced income.
“By being around other older adults and creating a shared sense of community, NORCs help alleviate concerns like loneliness or a lack of social engagement,” says Dr. Rochon.
The project puts an emphasis on building social connections, developing opportunities for physical activity within neighbourhoods and providing healthy food environments, all of which are important to improving the health and longevity of older adults living with diabetes, and to supporting the prevention of type 2 diabetes in those at risk.
Three support service models will be implemented and studied in ten NORC buildings in Toronto and Barrie, Ontario. The team’s preliminary data already shows that a considerable proportion of NORCs are in low-income and racialized neighbourhoods, which will be an important consideration. The team will also factor sex and gender, as well as age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status into the potential implementation of any NORC solutions.
Women’s Age Lab, is working with partners including the NORC Innovation Centre, the City of Toronto, and the City of Barrie. By developing practical tools, the research team and its partners on will fill important knowledge gaps to support the spread and scale of supportive services in NORCs across the country and elsewhere.