“Cultivating Connection: The Key to Combatting Loneliness in Long-Term Care”

Mature woman comforting senior mom sitting on wheelchair at nursing home. Cheerful woman talking to old disabled mother in wheelchair at elder care centre. Loving caregiver taking care of elderly woman at home.

5 Reasons a Robust Volunteer Initiative is Vital for Long-Term Care Communities



It is encouraging to see the number of authors who are posting articles addressing the issues of loneliness and social isolation and the devastating impact that being disconnected can have on people living in long-term care communities.

There are approximately 15,000 skilled nursing homes in the U.S., and various reports indicate that half or even more than half of the people living in long-term care do not get visits from anyone. They may have no family or have outlived their family, they may be estranged from family, or their family lives far away. Whatever the reason, they feel alone.

The people I visit have revealed what their experience is like. For example, a woman said, “I have a lot of people around me, aides, nurses, but there is no one here just for me.” So, in the midst of all the activity and busyness of the care home, she felt lonely and disconnected.

The pandemic served as a brutal taskmaster, teaching us all and allowing us all to experience firsthand the profound and painful impact of social isolation and loneliness. Far too many people die in our long-term care communities, not from disease but from loneliness and social isolation.

Within the operations of long-term care communities, where the incident rate of loneliness is far too great, the pivotal role of a robust companion volunteer presence cannot be overstated. Here are five compelling reasons why a well-trained companion volunteer is not just beneficial but essential in addressing loneliness and mitigating someone’s feelings of being disconnected.


1. Comprehensive Support Network:

A well-trained companion volunteer presence provides a comprehensive support network for people in the long-term care community. Trained companion volunteers become more than just someone stopping by; they offer emotional support and a genuine connection (“someone just for me”), creating “authentic” relationships that complement the professional care provided.

Care staff often express gratitude for the additional layer of personalized attention and social interaction that companion volunteers bring into residents’ daily lives.

The teamwork between care staff and companion volunteers makes the environment more complete and satisfying, promoting community and shared responsibility for residents’ well-being. Their shared appreciation highlights the combined efforts to give thorough and compassionate care in long-term care communities.


2. Alleviating the Burden of Social Isolation:

Social isolation’s detrimental impact on health, including increased mortality, is more than just alarming; it is a critical public health issue that demands urgent attention and initiative-taking solutions.

A thriving volunteer initiative that actively enlists and trains companion volunteers is essential in guaranteeing that the people living in care communities experience regular and meaningful social interactions, alleviating the harmful effects of isolation.

These committed volunteers function as bridges, forging connections between the community and those who may have infrequent visitors, acting as a vital link to the broader community. The aim is to reduce the detrimental impact of isolation, nurture lasting connections, and enhance the overall quality of life for everyone involved.


3. Personalized Care and Attention:

With ample companion volunteers, a well-staffed initiative facilitates a more individualized approach to care. Each resident receives personalized attention tailored to their specific needs and preferences. This customized care fosters a sense of belonging and significance, directly addressing the emotional and psychological dimensions of well-being.

Addressing emotional needs entails creating a supportive environment that enables individuals to experience positive emotions and effectively manage negative ones. On the psychological front, these relationships contribute to a sense of purpose, bolster self-esteem, and enhance the capacity to cope with life’s demands.

Addressing the psychological dimensions of well-being involves promoting cognitive health, encouraging personal growth, and supporting individuals to navigate the intricacies of their thoughts and feelings.


4. Consistent Engagement for Lasting Impact:

Consistency plays a crucial role in addressing loneliness and social isolation. A robust companion volunteer initiative guarantees a reliable presence of companionship and feelings of connectedness.

These companion volunteers set up consistent visitation schedules, create and engage residents in personalized activities, foster meaningful conversations, and establish a dependable source of support for residents over an extended period.


5. Expanding Reach, Extending Impact:

Expanding the reach and extending the impact of a companion volunteer initiative through adequate staffing is a strategic approach that yields numerous benefits.

With sufficient staffing, a volunteer program transcends the limitations of a smaller initiative, reaching a greater number of residents within long-term care communities. This extended reach ensures that more individuals can benefit from the support and companionship provided by dedicated volunteers.

Moreover, a well-staffed program allows companion volunteers to cover a broader spectrum of activities and services. This increased capacity for engagement means that companion volunteers can address various needs and preferences among residents, tailoring their efforts to create a more personalized and enriching experience for each individual.

The scalability achieved through adequate staffing positions the volunteer initiative to make a substantial and lasting impact on the lives of a larger segment of the long-term care community.

This impact extends beyond mere numbers; it encompasses the depth and quality of interactions, fostering a sense of community, belonging, and improved well-being for a more extensive group of residents.

Expanding the reach and extending the impact of a volunteer program through sufficient staffing is a strategic investment that quantitatively benefits more individuals and qualitatively enhances the overall experience and positive outcomes within the long-term care community.


Next Steps:

In light of the recent findings on the critical link between social interactions and mortality, the urgency to establish and maintain robust volunteer initiatives in long-term care communities cannot be overstated.

In addition, the positive culture cultivated by companion volunteers can enhance the long-term care community’s reputation, serving as a recruitment and retention asset and potentially attracting more professional staff in the long run.

The National Association of Long-Term Care Volunteers (NALTCV) stands as a beacon in cultivating connection, mitigating the impact of loneliness, and contributing to improved overall well-being. It’s not just a choice; it’s necessary to ensure that no one in long-term care faces the challenges of aging alone.

Join the Movement:

Discover how to participate in this transformative initiative by exploring the NALTCV website Together, let’s cultivate connections and make a lasting impact on the lives of those living and working in long-term care communities.


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