Vital Aging Network

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VAN Forum

Social Connections: An Antidote for Loneliness and Isolation:

January 25, 2018
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Bruce McBeath, Ph.D, licensed psychologist who writes, speaks and consults with organizations about the psychology of aging, with clinical practices in St. Paul and Red Wing, MN

James Falvey, executive director of Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly and a leading thinker in the Twin Cities on the topic of fostering social connection at the community level.

Ramsey County Library - Roseville
2180 Hamline Ave N
Roseville, MN 55113



Forum Summary

Research has identified a number of facts about people's need for interaction with each other. Social connections are crucial to health and well-being. There is a direct link between loneliness and isolation and negative health outcomes such as cardiovascular issues and dementia. Loneliness has been called the silent killer, and older adults are particularly at risk.

Vital Aging Network focused on loneliness and isolation among older adults at its January 2018 VAN Forum. Guest speakers Dr. Bruce McBeath, practicing psychologist, and James Falvey, executive director of Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly, addressed the psychological issues of loneliness and the need for a community-wide response.

Dr. McBeath described the anatomy of loneliness. Some of the highlights he shared: When someone's social connections (networks) start to shrink because of others' death or incapacity, there is an enhanced risk of becoming vulnerable and dependent. Broken or absent connections that once provided vitality and fulfilled the need for validation can lead to loneliness, and if that becomes a way of life, to intense isolation. The challenge is to overcome vulnerability and dependency to be able to establish new social connections.

McBeath suggested two ways to move from vulnerability and dependency to "solid ground" again: engaging in religious or spiritual practice or allowing someone (a "midwife") to help create a new social connection that will lead to more connections.

Executive Director Falvey addressed the community component in combating loneliness and isolation. Citing Medicare data that show an estimated $6.7 billion in additional annual federal spending on older adults who lack social contacts, Falvey called the issue a public health issue that needs a community-wide response.

"Socialization is as important and food and air," he said. To successfully age in place (at home rather than in a facility) older adults need support networks available for when physical and mental abilities decline. Falvey believes that informed communities will respond to the challenge. He suggested that individuals can help by volunteering and by starting conversations about aging with friends and family.

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