Western insights inform rural seniors development

Paul Mayne // Western News

Health Sciences professor Marita Kloseck is thrilled to be part of a proposed $21-million retirement living project in Huron County, a facility aiming at keeping rural residents in their own community.

A proposed $21-million retirement living project in rural Huron County has added a Western component to its focus on keeping seniors in their own community.

Inspiring Living Seaforth, which looks to break ground in spring 2017, will consist of 20 units for palliative and cognitive impairment residents, 60 independent-living units and 40 townhomes for independent living.

Health Sciences professor Marita Kloseck said Western research will inform the development of the community-designed project by providing incremental care options for active seniors and those requiring rehabilitation, assisted or end-of-life care.

“For us, it’s a nice chance to partner with a rural developer and rural community,” said Kloseck, Director of the Sam Katz Community Health and Aging Research Unit in the Faculty of Health Sciences. “Not only do rural seniors have the same health-related concerns (as urban seniors), they face other issues related to geography, location to health services and access to those health services. There are so many concerns already. In rural areas, the problems are exasperated.”

The Katz research unit, part of Western’s Cluster of Research Excellence in Musculoskeletal Health and The Bone and Joint Institute, brings together teams from many disciplines to translate academic research into community action to improve the management of aging-related issues. “Our focus is on individuals in advanced age who are on the tipping point of losing their independence,” Kloseck said.

Developers of the Seaforth project were attracted to Kloseck’s research interests, including health promotion, age-friendly communities, health and functioning of older individuals living in the community and peer-led education models to improve chronic disease.

“Her passion and research fits with every aspect of our community,” said Jessica Lunshof, President and CEO of JL Retirement Living, who are heading the project. “This is a gap within the rural community – an individual must transition through the system and move miles away from their hometown. This can lead to a significant decline in health and quality of life.”

Smoothing this transition is important for all seniors, especially for those who experience cognitive impairments, like dementia or Alzheimer’s, or those entering the final stages of life through Hospice and palliative care, she added.

“The concern was for these farmers who grew up and lived all their lives in a rural location. If something happened, they were automatically shunted to an urban centre; their quality of life was compromised and were now in unfamiliar territory,” said Kloseck, who is also involved with the Cherryhill Healthy Aging program in London.

“Let’s see if we can build an integrated, incremental living unit where we can keep these people in a rural community. These are the communities where they lived all their lives. We want to be able to keep them there – to live there and die there.”

It was clear to Kloseck that her lab’s passion and vision were a perfect fit for the project.

“The challenges in conducting community research is how researchers parachute in and parachute out. Very often, they would get what they needed and not much was given back to the community,” she explained. “But it needs to be a win-win situation.

“Here, people truly care about working together – so everyone wins. It’s all about the people being at the forefront, their quality of life, being engaged in the co-design and finding out why they want to stay in their community.”

There will be opportunities for students to work on-site in the community, with different cohorts of older people, she said. There will be clinical opportunities with the School of Nursing, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, Speech and Language Pathology – all working together.

Lunshof maintains high hopes for the project.

“With our partnership with Western, we hope to become a model and a hub for successful aging-in-place for other rural and remote communities,” she said.