Bridging Research to Reality: A Comprehensive Guide for Activity Professionals on Implementing Companion Volunteers in Long-Term Care Settings.
Our mission to enhance the lives of residents in long-term care communities involves recognizing the profound impact of companionship. With this article, I want to bridge research insights with practical strategies you, the activity professional, can employ to empower you to champion the integration of companion volunteers in your daily routines. So, first, what does the research say?
Research Insights: The Transformative Power of Companionship
The research underpins the vital importance of companionship in long-term care. Each study, and there are many of them, brings a unique perspective, collectively forming a compelling story for the transformative power of authentic relationships.
Holt-Lunstad, Smith, and Layton’s (2010) groundbreaking study serves as a cornerstone. Exploring the consequences of social isolation, the researchers revealed its detrimental effects, drawing a striking parallel to the risks associated with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In other words, people living with social isolation die not from old age but from feelings of loneliness and social isolation. This revelation underscores the urgency of cultivating meaningful connections, positioning companionship as a vital antidote to the silent epidemic of loneliness pervasive in long-term care communities.
The study explored the physiological impacts of social relationships, revealing how they influence mortality risk. The intricate interplay between companionship and well-being became clear, signaling a call to action for activity professionals to recognize their critical role in mitigating the adverse effects of isolation.
Building on the foundation laid by Holt-Lunstad and colleagues, Cattan, White, Bond, and Learmouth’s (2005) systematic review dives deeper into the realm of trained companions. Their findings reinforce that companionship is a strong tool against loneliness and highlight the significance of intentional training.
The study illustrates the importance of equipping companion volunteers with the skills to create meaningful connections. It underscores that genuine, trained companion volunteers have the potential to act as catalysts for positive social interactions, contributing to an environment where residents feel seen, heard, and understood.
Activity professionals can garner support for recruiting companion volunteers from this research, understanding that the impact of companionship extends beyond casual interactions. Through intentional training, companion volunteers can become powerful allies in the fight against social isolation, contributing to the overall well-being of residents. This means your residents will live longer, fuller lives.
The research highlights that recognizing and incorporating individuals’ self-identity roles can significantly affect the success of interventions. In the context of companion volunteers, this insight becomes exceptionally crucial. Understanding the life stories, preferences, and identities of residents allows companions to connect on a deeper level, fostering relationships that are not only authentic but also tailored to the individual.
Activity professionals can use this knowledge by encouraging companion volunteers to explore and integrate the self-identity roles of residents into their interactions. Doing so contributes to interactions that resonate with the person, promoting a sense of familiarity and connection even in the face of cognitive challenges.
These research insights, together, emphasize the urgency of companionship and the efficacy of trained companion volunteers to enhance the lives of your residents. Armed with this knowledge, you, the activity professional, can advocate for the implementation of companion volunteer programs with a deep understanding of their potential impact on the holistic well-being of the residents in your long-term care community.
Strategies for Implementation by Activity Professionals
Now equipped with these research insights, you can play a pivotal role in turning theory into practice. Here is a detailed guide tailored for you:
- Raise Awareness
Start by educating your team about the transformative impact of companion volunteers. Share the research findings that emphasize the positive outcomes of authentic relationships in mitigating loneliness. Use this knowledge to build a compelling case for integrating companionship programs. Create informational materials, conduct workshops, and facilitate discussions to ensure a comprehensive understanding among staff members.
- Collaborate with NALTCV
The National Association of Long-Term Care Volunteers (NALTCV) is here to help you. Access training programs that empower volunteers to create authentic connections. NALTCV’s expertise can be valuable in implementing effective companion volunteer initiatives. We are developing workshops, webinars and resources to augment the knowledge and skills of both staff and potential volunteers.
- Host Information Sessions
Organize regular information sessions to educate your team about the benefits of companion volunteers. Create a structured program covering research insights, potential challenges, and success stories from other care settings. Provide a platform for open discussions, addressing any concerns or questions. Focus groups are a wonderful way to facilitate these sessions. Encourage team members to share their experiences and insights, fostering a culture of collaboration and shared understanding. Again, the NALTCV is here to help you.
- Integrate Companionship into Care Plans
Collaborate closely with care teams to seamlessly integrate companionship and the companion volunteers into individualized care plans. Emphasize the importance of knowing residents personally and encourage staff to explore each individual’s preferences, interests, and life experiences. Develop guidelines or protocols for including companionship as a core element in care plans, ensuring consistency across the community.
- Celebrate Volunteer Contributions
Recognize and celebrate the efforts of companion volunteers regularly. Create a structured recognition program within your community to highlight the positive changes brought about by these dedicated individuals. Establish a system for tracking and highlighting volunteer achievements, creating a positive feedback loop that encourages sustained engagement. Consider organizing events or ceremonies to publicly appreciate the impact of companion volunteers on resident well-being. And share those stories with NALTCV so that we can share them widely.
- Overcoming Challenges
Recognize that implementing companion volunteer programs may come with various challenges. Anticipate potential obstacles and develop proactive strategies to address them. Establish a feedback mechanism encouraging open communication between staff, volunteers, and residents. Regularly assess the program’s effectiveness and be prepared to adjust based on feedback and evolving needs.
- Ensuring Sustainable Programs
Building sustainable companion volunteer programs requires a long-term commitment. Develop a structured framework for ongoing training and support for volunteers and staff. Consider creating a dedicated team or committee responsible for overseeing and continuously improving the program. Recruit your veteran volunteers for this.
- Encouraging Resident Involvement
Actively involve residents in the planning and execution of companion volunteer programs. Seek their input on the activities, events, or interactions they find most meaningful. Foster a sense of ownership and collaboration, empowering residents to shape their social environment actively. Ask for feedback from residents to ensure that the program aligns with their preferences and enhances their overall well-being.
- Monitoring and Evaluating Impact
Establish a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to assess the impact of companion volunteer programs. Define key performance indicators (KPIs) related to resident well-being, social connectedness, and overall satisfaction. Implement regular surveys or feedback sessions with residents, staff, and volunteers to gather qualitative and quantitative data. Analyze the results to identify areas of success and improvement, using the insights to refine and perfect the program continuously.
By bridging research insights with practical strategies, you can champion the integration of companion volunteers in your community on a comprehensive level. By using the transformative power of companionship, you can create a culture where residents thrive in authentic relationships. Empower your team with knowledge, collaborate with organizations like NALTCV, and celebrate the positive changes that companionship brings to the forefront of long-term care. Together, let’s turn the vision of companionship into a reality in your community.
Remember, the goal is not to add more to your plate but to enhance the quality of life for residents through thoughtful and meaningful connections. We recognize your dedication and are here to support you every step of the way. Feel free to explore the resources and help provided by NALTCV, tailored to make the integration of companion volunteers a possible and rewarding endeavor within the constraints of your busy schedule. Together, we can make a difference, one step at a time.
Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLOS Medicine, 7(7), e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316
Cattan, M., White, M., Bond, J., & Learmouth, A. (2005). Preventing Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Older People: A Systematic Review of Health Promotion Interventions. Ageing & Society, 25(1), 41-67. doi:10.1017/S0144686X04002594
Cohen-Mansfield, J., Parpura-Gill, A., & Golander, H. (2006). Utilization of Self-Identity Roles for Designing Interventions for Persons with Dementia. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 61(4), P202-P212. doi:10.1093/geronb/61.4.P202
Dr. Paul Falkowski, president/founder of the National Association of Long-Term Care Volunteers is a dedicated advocate for long-term care communities. He authored “Creating the Volun-Cheer Force,” and established the National Association of Long-Term Care Volunteers (NALTCV), aiming to empower, coordinate, spotlight, and research the impact of companion volunteers. Volunteer training and other resources are available online at https://NALTCV.org. Please feel free to reach to him at PFalkowski@NALTCV.org, and follow NALTCV on your favorite social media platform.