Webinar Recap: Strengthening Social Connectedness Among Older Adults

Last month, the February installment of our 2022 webinar series, titled Strengthening Social Connectedness Among Older Adults, went live! We were fortunate to be joined by some experts doing work in the field: Morgan McDonald, Community Resource Navigator at The Center for African American Health, Janine Vanderburg, Director & Chief Catalyst for Changing the Narrative, and Robert Murphy, Director of AARP Colorado. They shared great insights with our Founder and CEO, Dr. Danielle Varda on how they and their organizations serve older adults in our Colorado communities. See some highlights below!

Janine Vanderburg – Director & Chief Catalyst, Changing the Narrative 

Changing the Narrative’s primary initiative is “To change the way people think, talk, and act about aging and ageism.” Ageism contributes, and exacerbates social isolation in older adults, and the World Health Organization uses words like prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination to define ageism. 

It can lead to older adults being pushed out of the workforce, as Janine cited an Urban Institute study that found that 56% of people entering their 50’s were pushed out, or laid off from their jobs due to age, leading not only to financial difficulties, but also isolation from a place where they had regular interactions and established social connections. Older adults can also be siloed in senior centers or assisted living facilities, in what Janine calls “Institutional Age Segregation”, as people are grouped by age, not their interests. She said “I’m 68. Is there a reason why I would want to go someplace where everybody else is my age, or am I more interested in being involved with people who, like I am, are politically involved?” 

Janine also spoke about how Changing the Narrative is addressing ageism, and its associated issues:

  • Reframing aging by performing workshops that share information on language and messaging regarding older adults.
  • Community education and organizing, training anti-ageism advocates.
  • Challenging stereotypes by telling stories of real older people doing exciting work in the community
  • Facilitating interactions and connecting between generations.
Morgan McDonald – Community Resource Navigator, The Center for African American Health

As a former 4th grade teacher and the facilitator for all older adult-focused programs at The Center for African American Health, Morgan brought an interesting perspective and a wealth of knowledge to our discussion. Morgan oversees four programs that are aimed at increasing wellness among older adults in the community. Throughout Covid, she and The Center had to restructure the programs to a virtual experience, as there had been an emphasis on the in-person aspect. 

She and her team helped ensure the programs were still inviting and engaging, even over Zoom. “The beautiful thing about these programs is the connections that are being built. The way that everyone is leaning on each other, they’re coming to these programs and really being vulnerable with one another, and sharing experiences. When you’re on a weekly call, and talking about the same goals and the same objectives, it allows for better camaraderie.” 

The programs she oversees are:

  • The Journey to Wellness Program – For people who are pre-diabetic or want to improve their health, this program aims to prevent future health ailments like diabetes and heart disease. The program is a year-long commitment, with support and tools from Morgan and The Center. They promote physical activity, healthy eating and cooking, and overcoming barriers. The extended time that participants have with each other builds especially strong bonds.
  • Aging Mastery Virtual Program – For older adults 50 and up, this program helps build a guide to aging well. It focuses on exercise, community engagement, medication management, and financial fitness. The program has an advisory committee which includes doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and dieticians who help inform participants on the topics. 
  • Diabetes Empowerment – Interactive virtual classes help participants control blood sugar, reduce symptoms, and spend less on health care. It is designed for adults living with Type 2 Diabetes and the family and friends who care for them.
  • Check. Change. Control. – A hypertension management program that spans seven classes over four months, the goal is to have participants record their blood pressure numbers bi-monthly at the minimum. The Center offers incentives throughout the seven weeks to help ensure folks stay on track. 
Robert Murphy – State Director, AARP Colorado

Before joining AARP as State Director in 2016, Robert spent 22 years as a public servant to the City of Lakewood, Colorado, 8 of which he served as Mayor. AARP has over 38 million members nationwide ages 50 and up, with 670,000 of those members residing in Colorado. AARP was able to quickly pivot to virtual during the onset of Covid to help its members stay connected. Robert cited his team member Jeremiah Mora, who in 2021 alone organized over 150 webinars that reached 35,000 people on topics ranging from Covid safety, to vaccines, and even “Fun with Purpose” webinars, the latest of which featured a tour of Casa Bonita, a famed restaurant in Lakewood. The webinar had over 700 attendees!

AARP noticed great enthusiasm for its virtual events, but over time, Robert and his team sensed a “virtual fatigue” among attendees. As the country moves forward on Covid, some older adults are ready to get back in person, while others are understandingly reluctant. AARP has continued to innovate in the way they reach their audience, now moving to a more hybrid format. On the feedback he gets from his members, Robert said “As a Mayor, I had 155,000 constituents who often let me know how I was doing, if you know what I mean. Now I have 670,000 members in Colorado, and they’re not shy about letting us know either. And that’s a really good thing.”

While events can be light-hearted, AARP understands the serious needs in this area; in his presentation, Robert cited that the negative health impacts of social isolation among older adults can be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it costs Medicare an additional $6.7 billion a year, and its costs per person are comparable to that of arthritis and high blood pressure. AARP offers many services and programs to aid older adults, such as promoting equitable broadband access, digital literacy, and advocating for age-friendly communities and more affordable healthcare and housing. 

We thank our speakers and attendees! View our upcoming webinars HERE.

Be sure to stay tuned to our Visible Us Blog for more product updates and VNL Team content!

About the Author: Will Jacobson

Will Jacobson is the Business Development Specialist on VNL’s Marketing and Communications Team. Originally from New York City, Will loves living in Colorado and all the outdoor life it has to offer. He’s also a pretty big foodie!

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