Laurier doctoral student studies the ways isolation in elderly adults can effect their well-being

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Preet Chauhan, a fourth-year PhD student at Laurier, has made news with her award-winning research in the study of isolation of elderly adults and the effects on their well-being when connected with a network versus being alone.

After completing her undergraduate studies in psychology at York University in Toronto, Chauhan chose to continue her education with Laurier’s psychology program and the help of assistant professor Nicky Newton.

“When I was looking for what to do for my Master’s or what to do after my undergrad, that’s when I decided to come to Laurier based on the fact that it is a smaller school and I really wanted to go somewhere with a close-knitted smaller community to be able to explore my different research ideas and to work with different people,” Chauhan said.

Chauhan gained interest after volunteering with Telecheck, a telephone service that provides someone to talk to for those in need. She started off in the general program, and then moved to the service for seniors specifically, where she realised the significance of these adults getting someone to talk to.

“I learnt that some of these individuals don’t have any other human contact other than the volunteers from this program, so that really touched my heart. They wait on this one call to be their human contact,” Chauhan said.

“When I started it wasn’t necessarily just with the senior line, they have several different lines like the regular 24/7 helpline where anybody can call in at any time, and then they have these more particular programs which are either for seniors and even have programs in different languages to support those who may not speak English,” Chauhan said.

“Isolation in different communities, they have lines available for those seniors as well. I started as a volunteer just for the entire organization and I was always passionate about giving back to the community in some way, so volunteering during my undergrad was just something I started doing to give back to my community.”

As Chauhan continued to volunteer with the Telecheck program, she was eventually moved to the line for seniors, and her passion for research that stemmed out of her undergrad thesis turned into what would be her doctoral dissertation.

“I started volunteering for the line that is for older adults and there I became very involved in seeing how this line is supporting and empowering these adults to not only engage with the volunteers on the phone, but also providing resources so they can engage with others in the community,” Chauhan said.

“That’s where I became more passionate about work with this line to see how this line is supporting individuals and how we can improve and continue to do the same thing.”

Though Chauhan will not be defending her dissertation until the summer, her research has shown the impacts of just how much one phone call can mean to some elderly adults as they have barely any contact throughout their day-to-day lives.

“I learnt that some of these individuals don’t have any other human contact other than the volunteers from this program, so that really touched my heart. They wait on this one call to be their human contact,” Chauhan said.

“To me, as a very socially connected person, it was very shocking to know that individuals in the community that we live in — and they can be our neighbours, they can be living on our street — but they could be very isolated in their own homes.”

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