It took only one patient in the early days of the pandemic for Dr. Jacques Lee to see just how difficult COVID-19 would be on older adults, even for those who didn’t become infected with the virus.

Dr. Lee is the Research Chair in Geriatric Emergency Medicine at the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Medicine Institute (SREMI) and an emergency physician at Mount Sinai Hospital. He is leading national research studies to transform the care of older adults in the emergency department.

“In the spring of last year, I saw a man from a long-term care home whose main reason for coming to the emergency department was that he felt he was dying from loneliness,” says Dr. Lee. “His story ignited my interest and research in social isolation and loneliness.”

To address the effects of social isolation, Dr. Lee quickly directed his research efforts toward identifying and treating loneliness, including his current study – to support treatment of loneliness with the help of hospital volunteers.

While volunteers are not allowed in-person in the hospital, Dr. Lee’s research team will connect volunteers with isolated older adults, over the phone. These volunteers are being trained to facilitate engaging conversations with these individuals.

The volunteer helps the isolated older adult identify strengths and positive aspects of their lives while also helping them identify ways to increase their social engagement. Following training, volunteers and these older adults will have half-hour, weekly phone conversations for a period of four months.

“Hospital volunteers are amazing people, with a wide variety of life experiences, who want to help,” says Dr. Lee, who hopes to have early findings on this social isolation research by June 2022. “We’re seeing if connecting them to isolated older people can make a difference.”

Mount Sinai Hospital was the first acute care hospital in Canada to make geriatrics a key strategic priority in emergency care. The Geriatric Emergency Management (GEM) program involves registered nurses highly-trained in engaging patients to assess for potential mental health or cognitive challenges, and the MAUVE program, established in 2010 and on hold during the pandemic, engages specially trained volunteers who work closely with the care team to provide companionship and functional support to patients.

Interested in getting involved?

Sinai Health is partnering with the Schwartz/Reisman Emergency Medicine Institute and North York General Hospital on the How R U Volunteer Program.

As part of an ongoing research study, the program is engaging volunteer participants to help older adults who may be socially isolated or who have feelings of loneliness due to the pandemic.

For more information, please email [email protected].