Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty. — Mother Teresa
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently proposed peer support as a crucial intervention to address loneliness and improve the health of older people around the world.
In their report, WHO stressed the serious consequences of chronic loneliness experienced by older people and how it damages their mental and physical health and shortens lives.1
Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department of Social Determinants of Health, wrote: “The International Day of Friendship reminds us of the importance of meaningful human relationships to overall health and well-being.”
WHO’s advocacy brief outlines improved research and applied interventions as a means to raise the profile of and address loneliness and social isolation.
Approaches include engaging people in peer support and social skills, and on a larger scale, ‘increasing social cohesion and reducing marginalization’ within policy and health agendas.
Why peer support?
Recent research indicates:
- 61% of residents in care homes are lonely, and of those, one third are severely lonely.2
- Loneliness is linked with increased depression, disability, heart disease, and mortality. 3
- Those who are lonely have significantly increased chances of getting dementia. 4
Can Peer Support work in Senior Living?
Many senior living organizations have already realized the benefits of offering regular peer support groups to help residents get connected. Revera, for example, owns and operates retirement and long-term care homes and has implemented the Java peer support programs in over 100 of their retirement sites across Canada.
In their survey, staff described the impact of the peer support groups:
“It has been eye opening discovering the variety and depth of the emotional needs of the residents.”
“The response [in these peers support groups] has been amazing, and some beautiful relationships have begun to develop. I love facilitating this program.”
Peer support matters. It not only improves quality of life—it can also literally save a life.
2Gardiner, C., Laud, P., Heaton, T., & Gott, M. (2020). What is the prevalence of loneliness amongst older people living in residential and nursing care homes? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Age and Ageing, 49(5), 748-757. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afaa049
3Sutin, A. R., Stephan, Y., Luchetti, M., & Terracciano, A. (2018). Loneliness and risk of dementia. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Scienes. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gby112
4Morley, J. E., & Berg-Weger, M. (2020). Loneliness in old age: An unaddressed health problem. The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, 24(3), 243-245. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-020-1323-6