“It Makes You Feel Good to Help!”: An Exploratory Study of the Experience of Peer Mentoring in Long-Term Care

Theurer, K. A., Stone, R. I., Suto, M. J., Timonen, V., Brown, S. G., & Mortenson, W. B. (2022). “It makes you feel good to help!”: An exploratory study of the experience of peer mentoring in long-term care. Canadian Journal on Aging / La Revue Canadienne Du Vieillissement, 41(3), 451–459. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0714980821000611

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Mental health issues (such as loneliness and depression) are significant concerns in long-term care settings.
    • Peer mentoring is a promising approach to address this.
  • This study assesses peer mentoring as a form of active social citizenship in long-term care settings by interviewing resident mentors about their experiences.
  • Three inter-related themes were identified:
    • Helping others, helping ourselves (the benefits and experiences of being a mentor)
    • Building a bigger social world (how mentors bonded and supported their mentees)
    • Facing challenges, learning together (how mentors responded to challenges as a team)
  • Taking on a helping role provides mentors with a sense of meaning and well-being.
  • Mentoring programs offer a structured approach to supporting one another.
  • Strengthening residents’ social roles as citizens has the potential to alleviate ageist discourse associated with them. It also provides an opportunity for them to utilize their skills and live a life full of meaning, value, & purpose. It also has the potential to alleviate ageist social discourses associated with them.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Social isolation and loneliness in long-term care settings are a growing concern. Drawing on concepts of social citizenship, we developed a peer mentoring program in which resident mentors and volunteers formed a team, met weekly for training, and paired up to visit isolated residents. In this article, we explore the experiences of the resident mentors. As part of a larger mixed-methods study conducted in 10 sites in Canada, we interviewed mentors (n = 48) and analysed data using inductive thematic analysis. We identified three inter-related themes: Helping others, helping ourselves described the personal benefits experienced through adopting a helping role; Building a bigger social world encapsulated new connections with those visited, and; Facing challenges, learning together described how mentors dealt with challenges as a team. Our findings suggest that a structured approach to mentoring benefits residents and helps them feel confident taking on a role supporting their isolated peers.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The aim of our study was to explore peer mentoring as a form of active social citizenship among people living in long-term care and describe its impact from the resident mentors’ perspectives. The social citizenship lens offered a useful theoretical foundation to examine the role of people living in long-term care settings, and our findings highlight the potential benefits of offering residents structured mentoring opportunities to help one another. To our knowledge, this is the first study to explore a team-based peer mentoring approach in a long-term care home that includes education, and where two mentors pair up to visit each resident mentee.

The first theme elucidated resident mentors’ experiences and benefits received through adopting the new social role of a mentor. A social role has been defined as a comprehensive pattern of behaviours and attitudes that affect how a person behaves and is treated by others (Turner, 1990). The overall impact of the role as a contributing social citizen appeared to be positive and affected the resident mentors on a personal level. Research suggests that purposeful social interaction in groups brings meaning to social life (Knight, Haslam, & Haslam, 2010). It is possible that the adoption of a role that is focused on helping others within a group setting may be particularly important to residents, as it offers them a new identity. The beneficial effects of giving have been described by others examining the ability of residents to contribute (Yeung, Kwok, & Chung, 2012) and find meaningful social roles (Skrajner et al., 2014). There were challenges encountered during the visits; however, sharing the challenges at team meetings and finding solutions during the team meetings were helpful to the mentors. Prior studies indicate that having a purposeful role and helping others are influential in how well individuals adjust to living in long-term care (Brownie et al.,2014), and thus the impact of this role is worth exploring in future research.

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