Seton Villa Retirement Centre is located in beautiful British Columbia and is a thriving and sustainable neighbourhood community. This centre promotes health, independence, and provides affordable living for seniors.
I had an opportunity to interview Michele Cook, Executive Director of Seton Villa, along with some residents. I asked Michele about loneliness and what keeps her up at night.
“Loneliness in this retirement community is evident. That’s what the research shows and that’s what we see on a day to day basis.
And she is right. As time goes on with COVID-19, the United Nations warns that the risk for social isolation and loneliness are magnified among older adults and this has a dramatic impact on well-being.1
Michele went on to say: “It has broken my heart to think that people in this building are suffering. If we had that type of suffering because of people’s sore leg, or sore arm or sore back, we just absolutely wouldn’t tolerate it, right? The nursing, the medical part of it would be dealt with. It would be!
“So, to know that we have suffering in the building and not really have had the tools—really the effective tools to deal with that—that’s the kind of stuff that keeps me awake at night.”
Residents Helping Residents
Seton Villa had already implemented a peer support group called the Java Music Club. This group meets weekly and one resident commented on the impact of residents helping other resident living there:
“When I first came [to Seton Villa], the first group I went to is the Java Music Club because I thought this is a great way to meet individuals on my own because … I’ve not lived here. I moved out from Ontario.
So, it was a wonderful way to meet people. I didn’t have to go out go searching for them,…they were already sitting around the table when I came in.
And I really enjoyed that…there was time for everyone to have a say. The one thing I remember really liking about that was the nature that everyone had a chance to share. Because they use the talking stick.”
However, there were still residents that did not leave their rooms.
As one resident pointed out: “Most of the lonely people,…you don’t see them, because they don’t go out.”
An Army of Volunteers
So Seton Villa took action and implemented a resident peer mentoring program called Java Mentorship. 2-3 Java Mentorship is a weekly activity made up of a team of residents and volunteers that meet to learn how to be mentor. What to say, what to do.
After the team meeting, the mentors pair up and visit their peers that may be socially isolated.
Michele went on to say: “What I really like about Java Mentorship is that it provides the structure and the framework to deal with loneliness.”
“What we do is we get a group of people together who are our mentors and we have an opportunity for them to build up their skills at visiting these folks that are hard to visit.
What has been wonderful about it … is that we’ve taken our own resident volunteers—[they] become the mentors. They are this army that go out and do this fantastic work.”
One resident mentor agreed: “Loneliness here—I think since Java Mentorship—[residents have] started to come out a lot. I notice that people are more out in the hallways, and a little happier and talking to people. I find they’re not so taken back, in the elevators—a little chit chat or laugh.
“I think a lot of it is that as mentors we have more respect for those people that we’re dealing with, and compassion towards them, and this makes a big difference, in their lives and ours.”
Another resident mentor added: “It’s a beautiful program…and I’m very grateful for it. Really grateful for it!”
Is Java Mentorship possible during COVID? Absolutely. Resident mentors have found creative ways to visit those that are lonely while respecting physical distancing.
Michele finished up saying: “One of the mentors visited me the other day. I just happened to see her, and asked how did your visits go today? She came to my office and she cried. These were tears of joy because she and her partner mentor had had this most amazing visit with one of our residents here who finally felt comfortable enough to share with the mentors what was going on for them.”
Watch the Seton Villa video of Java Mentorship in action here: https://vimeo.com/407014053
1United Nations. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on older persons. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2020/05/COVID-Older-persons.pdf
2Theurer, K. A., Stone, R. I., Suto, M. J., Timonen, V., Brown, S., & Mortenson, W. B. (2020). The impact of peer mentoring on loneliness, depression and social engagement in long-term care. Journal of Applied Gerontology. https://doi.org/10.1177/0733464820910939
3Theurer, K. A., Stone, R. I., Suto, M. J., Timonen, V., Brown, S. G., & Mortenson, W. B. (2020). Reducing loneliness and depression: The power of peer mentoring in long-term care. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 21(1), 137-139. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2019.08.011