Social prescribing is the next step to better health

What if you were diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, or any other health condition? You would expect your doctor to discuss the best treatments, and more often than not, you would receive a written prescription for medication.

But what if, along with your pills, you also received an Rx to join a community gardening project, or meet up with a seniors’ choir group, or connect with a particular social support tailored to your unique situation? “Social prescribing”* recognizes that our health—and healing—can’t be treated just by doctors or medicine alone.

What is social prescribing?

Seniors experiencing a chronic health condition in particular know that their illness can have a significant effect on their life beyond physical symptoms. It can be more difficult to go out, take care of their home, or spend time with loved ones. That’s why it’s important to treat the person, and not just the condition. Social prescribing does exactly that by connecting people to different types of community supports*, including social events, fitness and wellness resources and social supports.

The senior with high blood pressure, for example, along with a script for meds and encouragement to modify diet and exercise, could be referred to a community worker. That worker, learning from the senior that they enjoyed dancing, would connect them to a ballroom dancing class.

How social prescribing addresses social isolation

We now know that there is a long list of negative health effects that come from being socially isolated, even when no underlying medical condition is present. Social prescribing helps to address this, and although it is relatively new, research and practice from the UK show that it can improve recovery rates and make people feel better, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

A recent pilot project in Ontario developed by the Alliance for Healthier Communities found that clients in this social prescribing program experienced a 12 per cent increase in mental health, a 49 per cent decrease in loneliness, and a 19 per cent increase in social activities.

How retirement living can help

Even without a social prescription, however, there are other ways to revitalize social connections and thus help maintain better overall wellness. More seniors are discovering that a retirement residence lifestyle can balance built-in friends and social activities with continued independence. A supportive community of peers and staff, fitness and wellness classes, social events, activities and outings, along with nutritious meals and numerous on-site amenities, all combine to offer a positive prescription for an active and fulfilling life.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. National Academy. "What is Social Prescribing?",
  2. healthline. "Buprenorphine: How It’s Used to Treat Opioid Use Disorder"(2021),
  3. National Academy. "Evidence on social prescribing",
  4. Community communaute. "Social prescribing in Ontario"(2020),