Young woman helping older woman carry groceries home

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A virtual mentorship program connecting independent living residents and teens helped counteract loneliness in the midst of the pandemic, according to a University of California, San Diego, study.

Heidi Banh, a third-year medical student, and Desiree Shapiro, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, created a community-based, intergenerational mentorship program to determine whether it could promote social connection, resilience and mental well-being. After a year of planning, they launched the program earlier this year.

Five older adults from two Front Porch independent living communities — Casa de Manana in La Jolla, CA, and Wesley Palms in San Diego — were partnered with five teens in the Aaron Price Fellows Program, a leadership program for public high school students in San Diego County. Shapiro is an alumna of the leadership program. Participants were paired in a matching process based on mutual interests or passions.

The participants — ranging in age from 15 to 102 — met for six months in one-on-one virtual meetings and occasional group gatherings, with themes including gratitude, self-compassion, mindfulness, kindness and purpose. The sessions, according to UCSD, were aimed at promoting a sense of community, positive coping, self-discovery and an appreciation of common humanity through storytelling and meaningful dialogue.

Although final study results are still being analyzed, researchers are looking for changes in social connectedness, resilience and mental well-being among participants. They also will assess general attitudes toward older adults or adolescent youth, as well as perceived abilities to connect with or to affect the other group’s well-being.

Researchers will use collected feedback at the end of the program to improve future programs and determine whether it can be expanded to more senior living communities and teens.

“As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I appreciate that one supportive adult can transform an adolescent’s life trajectory,” Shapiro said in a UCSD article. “I believe this can be bi-directional, and there is so much mutual benefit in bringing generations together. Seeing our first few sessions unfold, there is real reason to have hope in the world.”

Shapiro said that loneliness is getting in the way of health and well-being — something she hoped to address through the mentorship program. The program  purposely was launched during the pandemic to “build resilience and infuse hope during a challenging time,” she said.

The intergenerational study follows other UCSD studies on the characteristics of loneliness in an independent living community and the strategies residents used to overcome it. Another national online study concluded that loneliness levels peak during an individual’s 20s and are lowest in their 60s.