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Rural seniors learn practical health advice ahead of Health Literacy Month

North River 50+ Friendship Group is a social group for seniors aged 50+ who are looking to connect and socialize with likeminded seniors. Located on the Avalon Peninsula in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, the group meets regularly to take part in activities like potluck lunches and educational seminars. Joanne Morrissey is a member in the group, and she recently attended an event at Seniors NL, where she learned about the Activate Learning program by ABC Life Literacy Canada.

Activate Learning is a literacy program focused on supporting and empowering the unique population of Newfoundland and Labrador. It offers educational opportunities on several topics, including employability and life skills, financial literacy, and health literacy. Morrissey thought the health literacy workshops – delivered through a program called ABC Health Matters – would be a great fit for her seniors group, and so she volunteered to deliver them.

“Health seemed like a very relevant topic to our audience and so we decided to run two in-person workshops in August and September,” says Morrissey. “We had about 12 people show up to each workshop and it was really great – everyone loved them.”

Morrissey says that many people in Newfoundland and Labrador don’t have a family doctor and don’t know where to go if the ER isn’t open, which happens sometimes at rotating hospitals in rural locations like North River.

“Many of the seniors didn’t know about the 811 number, which is something we covered in the workshop, so that was really well received.”

The 811 HealthLine is a telehealth service in the province that individuals can call 24/7 and speak to a registered nurse. The free and confidential telephone line is available to all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Morrissey says they also had an open discussion about the importance of having your address displayed clearly if you’re dialing 911, since ambulances sometimes can’t find a house in rural locations.

Another topic discussed during the workshop was the importance of creating a “file for life.” A “file for life” is a detailed document that outlines one’s medical history and personal health information. Morrissey distributed the “file for life” document to participants to fill out during the workshop, alongside a waterproof, plastic see-through envelope-like pencil case that participants could put the document in. Morrissey then encouraged participants to put their “file for life” inside the fridge so that if a first responder ever needed to access it, it was in a memorable and accessible location.

She also encouraged participants to go to their pharmacy and ask for a print-out of all their medication, so that they could include that in the file as well.

“Many seniors take a lot of different kinds of medications and it’s hard to remember the names of them all. If there’s an emergency and you need to tell someone what medication you’re on, showing them the print-out can be a lot easier than looking at all your different pill bottles.”

Morrissey says having your “file for life” on hand is important, especially if you ever need to call 911. As an add-on, she also created fridge magnets that tell first responders that the file is inside, should someone ever need to access it.

“If you live alone and the ambulance comes and you need to get them your health information, you can show them the magnet or the package in the fridge. It’s especially helpful if you can’t speak,” says Morrissey.

October is Health Literacy Month. If you’re interested in running an ABC Health Matters workshop, or accessing free health literacy resources, visit abcactivatelearning.ca to learn more.