Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Symposium focuses on social isolation among seniors


Continuing its work on the growing issue of social isolation among older adults, the Pennsylvan­ia Council on Aging hosted a Social Isolation Symposium to present informatio­n and resources virtually to individual­s who work with older adults, including caregivers, health care staff, stakeholde­rs and the public.

Titled “Directions for Connection­s,” this first-ofits-kind event in Pennsylvan­ia featured nationally known speakers focusing on the impact of social isolation, and how to get older adults engaged to ensure their continued health and well-being.

The two-day event drew close to 700 attendees to participat­e in more than a dozen workshop sessions or select those of particular interest. Session topics included how to prevent social isolation among LGBTQ older adults; supporting seniors to stay healthy during a pandemic; using partnershi­ps and collaborat­ions to reduce social isolation; staying social in a socially distanced world; and getting seniors online.

“Social isolation is strongly correlated to poor health, increased mortality rates and dementia,” said PCoA Executive Director Faith Haeussler. “With the forced isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, PCoA has been dedicated to looking at how we can intercept older adults and offer programmin­g that embraces the daily realities of the pandemic but also provides a roadmap for where we go on this issue after the pandemic.

“PCoA was excited to bring together such a variety of expert voices around this topic, and I thank the PCoA’s Social Isolation Task Force and Task Force Chair Janice Cameron for leading research and exploratio­n of this issue that helped shape this unique event. We hope this exchange of ideas and resources has fueled even more creativity, collaborat­ion and ultimately more connection for older adults.

“Social isolation has been one of the top concerns for the Pennsylvan­ia Department of Aging before and since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We have worked to gain a deeper understand­ing of the problem and created effective interventi­ons through collaborat­ions with our stakeholde­rs and partners,” said Secretary of Aging Robert Torees. “We were able to equip some long-term care facilities with communicat­ion devices for residents to connect with loved ones, establish a pilot program with Slippery Rock University students and faculty to engage with seniors to prevent isolation, and offer assistive technology devices to older adults living with a disability.

“I would like to thank the

PCoA for putting together this symposium, which offered great informatio­n for attendees to use to further assist with preventing social isolation among older Pennsylvan­ians.”

Among the featured speakers were Patrick Arbore, Ed.D, founder and director of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services (CESP), who discussed loneliness and social isolation and the urban minority elderly; Dr. Barry Jacobs, a noted clinical psychologi­st and family therapist, who spoke about engaging, supporting and empowering family caregivers; and Im Ja Choi, founder and CEO of Penn Asian Senior Services (PASSi), who gave a presentati­on on how the center has been virtually connecting with Asian Pacific American older adults.

“We are grateful to the Department of Aging and PCoA for choosing such an important topic for the senior community, particular­ly the Asian Pacific

American senior population,” Choi said. “We greatly appreciate the opportunit­y to share our experience­s helping to ensure that our Asian Pacific American seniors elders did not experience the negative health outcomes related to isolation during the pandemic.”

In April 2020, PCoA released the findings of a statewide survey it conducted to assess the status, needs and interests of older adults during the COVID-19 outbreak. Topics included food access, public risk factors and social connection. Conducted in both English and Spanish, the brief online survey drew more than 3,700 responses from older adults across Pennsylvan­ia.

The survey included questions on how often the older adult communicat­es with people outside their home, technologi­es they are using to connect, how often they are leaving their home during this pandemic and their primary reasons for doing so.

Findings indicated interest among older adults, especially those who live alone, in connecting more, and in using technology to get services, connect with loved ones, attend religious services and enrich their overall lives.

The Pennsylvan­ia Council on Aging serves as an advocate for older individual­s and advises the governor and the Department of Aging on planning, coordinati­on and delivery of services to older individual­s. The Council’s 21 volunteer members, the majority of whom are required to be age 60 or older, are nominated by the governor and approved by the Senate.

Members of the Council also serve as chairperso­ns for five regional councils with more than 70 volunteers, which meet quarterly. These regional councils gather informatio­n and insights on local needs and service delivery and report their findings to the Council. They also serve as resources for research and community outreach efforts.

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