Dr. Gina Agarwal, associate professor in the department of family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said the subsidized housing complex in the study had about 280 residents, predominantly low income seniors, with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and falls.
The Emergency Medical Service said it received frequent calls from the building. Two paramedics provided weekly drop-in sessions in the apartment building to review healthy lifestyles, measure blood pressure and assess diabetes risk and risk of falls.
An average of 25 percent of residents age 65 and older participated during the project's eight months.
More than 60 percent of the residents who attended the sessions had an elevated body mass index, 40 percent reported a low level of physical activity, one-third smoked, one-third had a high salt intake, one-third had a high fat intake and 50 percent had high blood pressure, Agarwal said.
Of the residents with high blood pressure, 80 percent were already on medication and, with their permission, the readings were conveyed to their family doctors, who could then take action such as adjusting medication, Agarwal said.
"The paramedics discussed one or two risk factors, such as smoking, lack of exercise or diet at each visit, tried to link residents to community resources and give advice, and then followed up to see how residents were managing," Agarwal said.
Paramedics made many referrals to the complex's in-house wellness exercise program, diabetes foot care and education program, and to residents' family doctors.
They also made linkages with community food advisers and the smoking cessation help line.
"With their regular presence thanks to the weekly schedule, the paramedics seem approachable," Agarwal said. "The number of new attendees keeps rising, with word of mouth. The high number of multiple visits also indicates a hunger for this type of health information when it's so readily available."