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Program pairs seniors, VCU medical students to combat loneliness amid pandemic

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Posted at 3:46 PM, Jan 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-01 19:04:41-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- For some, 2020 will be remembered as a lonely year due to isolation caused by the coronavirus, but two local women are heading into the new year with a brand new friendship.

Each Saturday, 70-year-old Joan Kerby and VCU medical student Miranda Savioli log onto Zoom for their regularly scheduled call.

“We talk about everything,” said Savioli. “We talk about politics, which is a lot of fun. We talk about the pandemic.”

“It’s the highlight of my week,” Kerby added.

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Joan Kerby and VCU medical student Miranda Savioli

Savioli and Kerby met through a program run by VCU medical students that pairs seniors with students. The goal is to provide much needed social interaction to combat loneliness during the pandemic.

“I saw the program as a way to not only have someone to talk to, but also somebody that was younger,” said Kerby.

Dozens of seniors across Central Virginia also participate in the program, including many from the Lakewood Senior Community in Henrico.

Courtney Harvey, a program coordinator at Lakewood, says she’s noticed positive benefits for residents since bringing the VCU program to the community.

“Just to create a friendship and a bond with another human being is really important during this time,” Harvey said.

Harvey said many people don’t realize how damaging isolation can be for elderly people, adding that it can lead to memory loss.

“People that experienced signs or symptoms of dementia before COVID — A lot of those are exacerbated just because they haven’t been able to be social. They haven’t used the cognitive stimulus of talking to their neighbor,” Harvey explained.

For a younger medical student like Savioli, the gift of a friend offers a sweet escape during a challenging time.

“I don’t have to worry about anything else. I just get to have a chat with my friend,” Savioli said.

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Joan Kerby and VCU medical student Miranda Savioli

One of those chats happened safely in person. The two met face to face for the first time in person in November and hope to have more opportunities in the future.

“We will be lifelong friends, so that’s a great joy,” said Kerby.

If you or a loved one would like to connect with the program, send an email to VCUgeriatrics@gmail.com.

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