School of Social Work and partners address isolation and loneliness within aging populations

Social work older Mainers
Photograph from Matt Black’s collection on older adults in rural Maine “Left in the Cold”

The School of Social Work (SSW), in collaboration with the Center for Excellence in Collaborative Education (CECE) and the Center for Excellence in Aging and Health (CEAH), held a half-day virtual workshop focused on social isolation and loneliness, conditions identified prior to COVID-19 as devastating to older adults, now heightened because of restrictions imposed during the 2020 pandemic.

A local, national, and international cross-disciplinary audience of more than 200 people recently attended the virtual workshop.

Lenard Kaye, D.S.W., Ph.D., director of the University of Maine Center on Aging, presented the keynote address “It’s Time to Confront the Continuing Scourge of Older Adult Isolation and Loneliness.” His comments reflected upon how physical distance and lack of live contact with family, caregivers, and activities negatively impacts the health and well-being of older adults, many of whom rely on others for transportation and comfort.

Betsy Sawyer-Manter LMSW, president and CEO of SeniorsPlus, described the policy and programming implications of social isolation and loneliness.

The workshop also included a panel discussion with Monica Main, Robert Foley, and Ruby Parker, Legacy Scholars who participate in research studies on aging health and wellness in conjunction with UNE’s CEAH. The panel was facilitated by Tom Meuser, Ph.D., founding director of CEAH.

The workshop culminated in a simulated case-based interactive session that brought audience members together in small groups to explore the experience of a 76-year-old Vietnam veteran transitioning from face-to-face to tele-behavioral health care. The simulation was enacted by a cross-professional team from Tri-County Mental Health Services and facilitated by Kelli Fox, LCSW, CCS, LADC and Frank Brooks, Ph.D, LCSW, from the SSW.

“We were excited by the resounding response we received to the workshop” said Shelley Cohen Konrad, primary investigator for the TRIAD grant. “It is indicative of the broad desire for more information about how to address the growing needs of aging populations not only in Maine, but nationally and globally.”

The workshop was part of a four-year Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded behavioral health workforce education and training grant, Training in Aging and Diversity (TRAID) that provides local and regional trainings, and intensive curricular emphasis on the behavioral health needs of aging populations. The work of TRAID is particularly relevant in Maine, home of the nation’s largest population of people over 65, many of whom live in poor, rural areas.

The TRIAD grant project will host another workshop in spring 2021 focused on identifying and treating substance use disorders with older adults.

Shelley Cohen Konrad
Shelley Cohen Konrad, program investigator for the TRIAD grant
Tom Meuser
Tom Meuser, founding director of CEAH

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