AARP Foundation Launches Initiative to Combat Isolation

Social isolation is a serious problem for older Americans. AARP Foundation’s new platform, Connect2Affect, aims to raise awareness and identify solutions.

Social isolation affects more than 8 million older adults, and it presents health risks equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day, according to AARP Foundation. Through its Connect2Affect initiative, the foundation is raising awareness of social isolation and working toward solutions.

Family members and neighbors are often the first to notice the signs of isolation but may not know how to interpret them—or what to do about them.

Connect2Affect—geared toward older people, their families, and the wider community—is a joint initiative of AARP Foundation, the Gerontological Society of America, Give an Hour, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and UnitedHealth Group.

“As healthcare organizations and nonprofits focused on aging and mental health, with a deep commitment to pursuing research, we all believe we have a responsibility to come together to tackle this issue,” said AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson.

“We created this coalition to be a vehicle to help end isolation and build the social connections older adults need to thrive,” Ryerson said. “Through research and innovative efforts, we’re working to foster a deeper understanding of loneliness and isolation, draw crucial attention to these issues, and catalyze action to end social isolation among older adults.”

The Connect2Affect website explains that isolation goes beyond loneliness. It involves feeling detached physically or psychologically, or being disconnected from one’s support groups of family, friends, and community.  Videos that tell personal stories illustrate some of the issues involved, such as how to prevent falls and how one woman benefited from an art program. The site invites users to share their own stories.

“Video is a compelling medium for telling personal stories and showing the real-life effects of building social bonds,” Ryerson said. “It’s easy, for instance, to write off a painting class as a nice way to spend a couple of hours—but if you can see and hear the genuine impact it has on someone’s life, the sense of connectedness it creates for them, that’s far more powerful.”

The website offers a self-assessment test to help people evaluate their isolation risk. It also provides resources to help people reconnect with their community and reach out to others who might be isolated. It includes a directory that users can search to find programs and services near them.

“We’re also inviting family and friends of older adults to learn more about the risk factors for isolation,” Ryerson said. “Family members and neighbors are often the first to notice the signs of isolation but may not know how to interpret them—or what to do about them.”

Connect2Affect is a broad effort that intends to bring many disparate people together to fight this problem.

“We’re engaging the academic research community, thought leaders, organizations focused on aging, healthcare organizations, community-based organizations, media partners, multicultural organizations, religious organizations—any sector whose focus is older adults or issues of isolation and loneliness,” Ryerson said.

She added, “We expect to make information about Connect2Affect available to health providers, senior centers, and community groups, who we expect to pass it on or apply what they learn to the people they serve.”

(AARP Foundation screenshot)

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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