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It's Still True!

While based on an old (1992) survey, recent studies show it is still valid.

The Sarnia Seniors Project

In 1992 Community Living Sarnia-Lambton commissioned Dr. Peter McMahon, then Associate Professor of Social Work at King's College, University of Western Ontario, to help us to conduct a survey. We wanted to determine how many 'senior' families there were in Sarnia-Lambton who had a person with a developmental disability still living at home. We hoped also to determine what kind of supports these families needed that weren't already available and what their plans were for the future. The Survey questions and 'rules' were established by a committee of the Board. These rules included:

More than 100 senior families were located and contacted. Of these, 66 consented to be interviewed. The interviews took up to three hours each and were carried out by qualified, trained (by Peter McMahon) Social Workers at a time and place of each family's choosing - usually the family home. The training was necessary to ensure consistency between interviewers.

The responses were taken by Peter McMahon and 'made anonymous' by substituting a code number for the family's name and by carefully altering details of the responses so that the family's identity couldn't be guessed from anything they might have said in their responses. With the help of a committee, the 'anonymous' responses were tabulated into meaningful groups. We wanted to computerize the final analysis, so the Committee went through all the responses so that the software wouldn't list 'low blood pressure' and 'hypotension' as two different health problems...that sort of thing. (Computers are wonderful tools, but they aren't very bright.) The software we used was 'The Survey System', Version 4.1, published by Creative Research Systems in Petaluma, California.

The results made the trouble and expense worth while. We had solid information that could not be dismissed by funding sources, or by the Board, as "...the opinions of Social Workers". Because of this, the Association was able to shape services and programmes to what the users said they needed. The interviews also put us in touch with people at or near a crisis and the Association was able to offer the necessary supports on the spot. While the help was not always accepted, we at least were aware of these situations and could be somewhat prepared.

Some of the general things we discovered:

What started out as the Seniors Survey became the Seniors Project, and the Project is ongoing. Families who came to our attention through the survey are still being tracked. Many who didn't need, or want, help at the time of the survey are now using the Adult Respite, Vocational or Residential options, and the Survey has helped us make these services more meaningful to more people.

We have made presentations of the results of the survey locally, provincially and even in the U.S. Only now are we starting to see some similar findings being published and we are already in the process of forming alliances with those individuals and groups.

A summary report that highlights some of the specific results of the survey and some analyses of those results is available here for anyone who wants more than this brief outline.

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