By: Chloe Nicholson, Kovir LLC Intern
Social isolation can result in many health risks such as increased risk of dementia, risk of heart disease and stroke, and risk of premature death. According to the CDC, nearly one fourth of adults 45 and older are considered socially isolated. One fourth! Although this number is shockingly high, it feels like we focus more on addressing physical health in older adults. But why not address them together? By using the peer approach (or peer support) older adults can be assisted in their day to day activities while getting the emotional connection that they need to prevent loneliness and isolation.
What is peer support?
Peer support is when a trained peer (older adult) volunteer offers support to a less able peer. The peer volunteer can offer support socially, physically, and emotionally. When aging, many people struggle with giving up their independence. Being connected with a peer can help individuals to feel like they are still maintaining a level of independence, and still being given the help that they need.
What does peer support look like in a senior center?
Trained peer volunteers can offer support with tasks like transportation, social connection, attending appointments together, counseling, and assistance with shopping.
For example, many senior centers utilize peer counseling programs that connect seniors with a peer who will listen to their concerns, have non-judgemental one-on-one conversations together, will help with understanding life changes that come with aging, and will assist with connections to community resources.
How does peer support help?
Peer support programs have been associated with improvements of quality of life, reductions in hospitalizations, decrease in depression and loneliness. Additionally, being matched with someone their own age and with a similar background can help give older adults a feeling of connection and being understood.
Is peer support effective?
Studies have shown that older adults who have peer support have seen improvements in physical health, general health, and social function. Many have seen a decrease in anxiety symptoms and depression. One article stated that “at least 35 scholarly reviews have examined the benefits of peer support programs, and approximately 65% identified benefits.” In addition, many senior centers have successfully implemented peer support programs.
Check out some of the senior centers below who have implemented peer support programs!
Amador Senior Center, Jackson, CA: https://www.amadorseniorcenter.org/programs-services/senior-peer-visitor-program/
Area Agency on Aging, El Dorado County, CA: https://www.edcgov.us/Government/HumanServices/senior%20services/pages/senior_peer_counseling.aspx
West County Community Services, Guerneville, CA:
Faith In Action, Vacaville, CA
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 20). CDC Grand Rounds: Promoting well-being and independence in older adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 22, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6737a4.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 29). Loneliness and social isolation linked to serious health conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 22, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html
Schwei, R. J., Amesoudji, A. W., DeYoung, K., Madlof, J., Zambrano-Morales, E., Mahoney, J., & Jacobs, E. A. (2020). Older adults’ perspectives regarding peer-to-peer support programs and maintaining independence. Home Health Care Services Quarterly, 39(4), 197–209. https://doi.org/10.1080/01621424.2020.1778594
Schwei, R. J., Hetzel, S., Kim, K. M., Mahoney, J., DeYoung, K., Frumer, J., Lanzafame, R. P., Madlof, J., Simpson, A., Zambrano-Morales, E., & Jacobs, E. A. (2021). Peer-to-peer support and changes in health and well-being in older adults over time. JAMA Network Open, 4(6). https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.12441