New study testing whether virtual groups can improve well-being in older adults


LONDON, ON- The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on social connections, emotional health and well-being, especially for older adults.  A new study through Lawson Health Research Institute will examine whether online/virtual ‘meaning-centered’ groups can help promote social connections and reduce risk for psychological distress.

Online meaning-centered groups are a promising approach developed by a research team led by Dr. Marnin Heisel, a Lawson Scientist, Clinical Psychologist at London Health Sciences Centre and Professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University.

In his previous research, which began in-person and pivoted online during the pandemic, Dr. Heisel found that Meaning-Centered Groups helped men transitioning into retirement, a time when there is often a struggle with issues of identity, purpose and lost social connections.

“We found that people really enjoyed the camaraderie, they supported one another and many of them started getting involved in community activities, including outreach activities of their own and volunteering,” says Dr. Heisel.

Now, Dr. Heisel and his colleagues are looking to recruit participants from one of the populations hardest hit by the mental health impacts of the pandemic – older adults, who have become even more socially isolated.

“A lot of my research is focused on suicide prevention in older adults and I realized over time that one of the best ways of doing that is not waiting until people have to come for a psychologist or psychiatrist’s help, but rather to intervene much earlier and help people find those things that make life worth living,” notes Dr. Heisel.

The sessions will be 75 to 90 minutes and convened online once a week for eight weeks. The hope is to include approximately 10 people per group, with multiple groups underway at the same time.

“The meetings will focus on supporting one another, trying to build and enhance psychological resiliency, focusing on finding meaning in creative outlets, in relationships and other experiences,” explains Dr. Heisel. “They will also focus on attitudes towards challenges in life including adversities, the pandemic, being socially isolated, and also positive experiences.”

Dr. Heisel says he recognizes that the virtual format can be a challenge for some, but his team will help participants to both access and successfully use the technology.

Recruitment for the study is underway. Those interested in participating or who have friends or loved ones who might be interested can contact Dr. Heisel at or view the study website at for details.

Funding for the study is being provided by the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation at the Baycrest Centre and the Canadian government.

About Lawson Health Research Institute

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit

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