Sending Smiles

A Volunteer Opportunity for Youth to Help Alleviate Loneliness among Older Adults




Department of Gerontology


GERO 301


  • Theodore Cosco

City of Vancouver:

  • Eric Kowalski

Student Team:

  • Qudrat Aujla


  • Healthy City for All


Fall 2020


During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many older adults find themselves feeling isolated and closed off from the rest of the world due to the limited use of technology that the rest of us rely on to stay connected with loved ones. In order to combat loneliness and social isolation among older adults in the City of Vancouver, a 6-month qualitative research study will be set up to connect high school and university students with older adults living alone. Specifically, a website with a volunteer program called “Sending Smiles” will be set up, where students over the age of 16 can sign up for volunteer shifts. During these shifts, volunteers will have the choice of either making a card, writing a letter, or making a phone call to an older adult participating in this study.

Older adults over the age of 65 will be recruited for the study based on residence in long-term care or independent housing. Their capacity to consent will be assessed and will be consented for participation in five different languages. Loneliness levels will be accessed using the Campaign to End Loneliness survey tool. Also, interview questions will be used to qualitatively assess loneliness before and after the intervention. The use of technology will be limited and most of the data will be collected on paper, along with the use of voice recorders. After the completion of the study, the trends determined from the raw data can help influence the implementation of public policies catered to certain demographics among older adults that are being most affected by social isolation. Additionally, subsequent studies can take a further look into these trends. Lastly, by implementing this volunteer program, future programs can be designed to continue connecting older adults with students and decrease the burdens of social isolation and improve overall health outcomes.

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