Reducing Loneliness and Depression: The Power of Peer Mentoring in Long-term Care Theurer et al. (2020)
Loneliness is all around us. It is linked with depression and is arguably one of the most critical health issues facing our society.
Yet feeling lonely has a social stigma attached to it. Who wants to admit they are lonely? One of the main reasons that people who are lonely don’t reach out is that they don’t want to burden others—even when they have someone to count on.1
A peer, however, is someone safe to share things with. Our vulnerability, our hopes, our fears.
The Power of Peer Mentoring
Mentoring is used in a variety of ways, such as with people with health conditions or with education or business, but it is not often used in a care home.
New research published in Journal of the American Medical Directors Association describes the innovative peer mentoring program for care homes called Java Mentorship.2
Imagine this. Resident and community volunteers meet weekly for a team meeting, receive training, and then pair up to provide regular visits to socially isolated residents. They sit with them, build trust and invite them to become engaged with them, in programs offered in their home.
A study examining the implementation of this mentoring program in 10 senior living homes in Ontario, Canada, found significant reductions in loneliness scores of 15% (p = .014; d = .23) and 29% reduction in depression scores (p = .048; d = .30) among the resident mentors.2
One mentor reported: “It’s changed my life. It makes me feel like I am needed!”
However, the effects were not just experienced by the mentors. Those being visited also showed a 12% reduction in loneliness (p = 0.02; d = .76), a 30% drop in depression (p = 0.02; d = .76), and a 60% increase in the number of monthly programs attended (p = 0.01; d = .37).3
These are promising results. This approach challenges a common assumption that it is not the role of residents to care for their peers—that this should be the exclusive role of staff, who are the experts.
Loneliness and depression are common among older adults living in care and its effects are felt emotionally, mentally and physically.
Peer support and peer mentoring may well prove to be the best prescription for loneliness and the best antidepressant.
Dr. Robyn I. Stone, LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and co-author on the publication, described the rewards of the peer mentoring approach in care homes:
“Who benefits when residents serve as mentors? Everybody.” 4
Respectfully submitted, Dr. Kristine Theurer
3Theurer, K., Mortenson, W.B., Brown, S., Stone, R.I., Suto, M.J., Timonen, V. The impact of peer mentoring in residential care on those visited (abstract). In: IAGG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 2017. Proceedings of the IAGG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics; San Francisco, California.