New Research Published – Plus 7 Tips for Addressing Social Isolation

Social isolation and loneliness among residents in senior living communities have been epidemic, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. This is despite the best efforts of organizations to provide quality of life programning. Recently two new peer-reviewed articles have been published documenting exceptional results from  programs focused on peer support, residents helping residents. Tips that you can use follow. 

University of BC – Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging Study

The first study resulted from a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging and a group of 10 homes in Ontario, Canada called Schlegel Villages.

They examined the impact of an innovative peer mentoring program called Java Mentorship on loneliness, depression, and social engagement. After receiving weekly education as a team, pairs of residents and volunteers (mentors) visited weekly with at-risk, lonely, and isolated residents (mentees). The mentors built trusting relationships with those they visited and then over time, invited them to participate in the peer support groups, the Java Music Club, going on in the home.

The article, titled “The Impact of Peer Mentoring on Loneliness, Depression, and Social Engagement in Long-Term Care” , was authored by Dr. Kristine Theurer et al., and published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology and co-authored by Robyn Stone, senior vice president of research at LeadingAge, and co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston.

This article recorded the outcomes of peer mentoring for residents being visited – the mentees (n = 74). Quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews were used to understand their experience. After 6 months there was a 30% reduction in depression (p = .02, d = .76), a 12% reduction in loneliness (p = .02, d = .76), and a 60% increase in the number of monthly programs attended (p = .01, d = .37).

The analysis of mentee’s interviews revealed positive perceptions. These visits were important to them: “I like to feel that someone cares. I can be lonely at night” and, “…it made me feel like I’m more part of the world.”

This combination of peer mentoring and peer support in a senior living community is a powerful approach to reducing social isolation and loneliness. It taps into the residents themselves as a resource. No extra staff or outside intervention is required, which is especially important during virus outbreaks.

Ryerson University Study

Geneva Millett and Alexandra J. Fiocco of the Department of Psychology, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, recently published “A pilot study implementing the JAVA Music Club in residential care: Impact on cognition and psychosocial health” in the Journal of Aging and Mental Health.

Analyses showed decreased loneliness of participants from T1 to T2 (p = .003) and reductions in depressive symptoms (p = .043) and subjective memory complaints (p = .048) from T2 to T3.

Participants’ qualitative interviews illustrate that the Java Music Club was a positive experience that promoted social engagement. Important group elements included the group facilitator and group composition. Possible process elements included social engagement, the opportunity for reminiscence, and the ability of both social interaction and singing to benefit the residents and lift their ‘spirits’. Recreation coordinators reported that the group was unlike currently available group programs and increased socialization between residents.

7 Tips to setting up Resident Mentoring during COVID-19

Any home can use this model of peer support and peer mentoring, even and especially during a virus. Please note it is very important to follow regulations set by your home and to use physical distancing.

Here is a simple approach to resident peer mentoring that you can use in your home to get started right away.

  • First steps include offering weekly peer support groups. Serve refreshments and invite residents to talk about how they are doing. Be sure each group member has a chance to share.
  • At the end of each peer support group, encourage residents at the end of each group to think about who may be lonely in their neighbourhood. Which fellow resident has stopped coming to activities, who is just back form the hospital, who just lost a spouse? Invite residents to pay them a visit

Use the following 7 tips to share with the resident group. What works for one resident mentor may not work for another. Explore different options and discuss different approaches.

1. Express kindness to another resident. How? Offer a simple wave or a visual hug. Other offerings can include things like offering a ‘doorway visit’, or joining you for a walk if they are able.

2. Express sincere appreciation. Let the resident you are visiting know what you appreciate about them. Then invite them to express appreciative thoughts about someone. We often think appreciative thoughts but do not voice them. The sentence beginning with “One thing I really like about you is…” often ends well.

3. Take time to listen to a fellow resident. Try to be present and listen closely when they are speaking. Make a point of looking into their eyes. Listening, smile when appropriate, nod your head—it makes a world of difference. No need to fix or offer advice. Just listen.

4. Check on someone who is struggling with something or who is ill. Showing support to someone, especially if they are struggling, lonely or isolated, is important. Go visit them, write them a short supportive letter or card, bring them a quote or saying.

5. Volunteer in some way that is needed in your community. Along with a fellow resident, go see a department head or staff member, and ask if there is something they could use help with.

6. Nurture talent to give to others. If you notice that someone has a talent that they aren’t putting to use, let them know, you’ve noticed. Gently encourage them, and offer suggestions of where they can share their talent, e.g. Using their art to decorate the bare walls. Or create something as a project together.

7. Bring Optimism. Create a basket of inspiring quotes using large font sizes. Invite a resident to choose one, and then go together to find someone who is lonely or struggling and pass it on. Residents helping residents.

These are only 7 suggestions—we encourage you to get creative. There are 101 ways to help others every day. Peer support groups and peer mentoring are a simple and powerful way for residents to heal from this pandemic and build real relationships.

Residents helping residents is your untapped resource.

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