Staying Connected: The Lived Experiences of Volunteers and Older Adults
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Many housebound older adults lack meaningful social relationships. In this study we explore the phenomenon of social connectedness in the volunteer-older adult relationship through the experiences of frail and isolated older adults and volunteers. We conceptualise this relationship as a journey whereby each traveller plays an active role in its direction and outcome. The emergent phenomenological essence of social connectedness from these dyad’s narratives provides meaning for both differences and similarities into the way the construct is conceptualised. When volunteers maintain the boundaries of the relationship through structured conversation and visits, it is described as friendly. Transgressing the boundaries involves doing extra for the elder and is both a function of the dyad’s compatibility, and the volunteer’s sense of ongoing agency and lack of elder expectations. The sense of social connectedness inherent in these relationships often feels like that of friendship or family, and these relationships are perceived as meaningful and close for both parties. Social connectedness in family-like relationships is a function of the playing out of an otherwise missing family role. However, if volunteer volition is compromised, this results in feelings of obligation and responsibility, similar to the dynamic between blood relatives. Participants’ narratives suggest that when the boundaries of the relationship are mutually negotiated, this serves to strengthen the relationship’s socioemotional quality, and potential for the continuity of the unique sense of social connectedness that has already been established.
KeywordsVolunteering Loneliness Befriending Social connectedness Social isolation Social support
Our gratitude is due to the volunteers and older adults who were willing to participate in this research and for the personal and salient narratives that they shared. Special thanks go to all the staff at Wesley Do Care Melbourne, Australia for kindly providing access to their base of clients and dedicated volunteer befrienders. Special thanks go to Cyrille-Pennington-Corvec, Kevin Jones and Jamie Anderson for their insightful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper.
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