Befriending Older Adults in Nursing Homes: Volunteer Perceptions of Switching to Remote Befriending in the COVID-19 Era

Marcia Fearn, Robin Harper, Georgia Major, Sunil Bhar, Christina Bryant, Briony Dow, David Dunt, George Mnatzaganian, Daniel O’Connor, Julie Ratcliffe, Sarah Samuel, Anne Marie Bagnall, Colleen Doyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Residents in nursing homes are being isolated to prevent exposure to COVID-19. Many are prone to depression, anxiety and loneliness, and extra isolation leaves them vulnerable to compromised mental health. In this study, trained volunteers providing befriending for residents with symptoms of depression, anxiety and loneliness switched to remote befriending during COVID-19. The purpose of this study was to gauge volunteer perceptions of the switch. Methods: A qualitative phenomenological approach was used to understand how switching to remote befriending impacted on volunteers and residents. A convenience sample of 18 participants responded to questions either in individual or group interviews. Results: Volunteers adapted their befriending visits, switching from face to face visits to remote options. The format was decided collaboratively. Hearing impairments hindered phone calls. Residents sometimes felt uncomfortable with digital technology but on the whole, the change to remote “visiting” was accepted. Conclusions: Further research is being conducted to gauge mental health outcomes for residents. Most volunteers and residents accepted the switch to remote befriending as better than no contact. Clinical implications: Volunteers can provide valuable support for residents living with social isolation during COVID-19. The format for social support needs to be decided collaboratively between volunteer and resident.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)430-438
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Gerontologist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Befriending
  • COVID-19
  • mental health
  • nursing homes
  • volunteers


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