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Conference Session 1: Exploring the Effects of Loneliness, Isolation, and Social Connections
Friday, October 04, 2024, 9:30 AM - 12:00 PM PDT
Category: Conferences

Exploring the Effects of Loneliness, Isolation, and Social Connections 

Social Connection is Medicine: What Works to Treat Social Isolation and Loneliness in Later Life


  • Kimberly Van Orden, PhD (Associate Professor Co-Director, Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide, University of Rochester Medical Center


Social disconnection increases risk for all ten leading causes of death in the U.S. yet healthcare has not capitalized on social connection as preventive medicine: it is not routinely assessed and there are no clear evidence-based interventions. This presentation will discuss evidence-informed and promising strategies to assess and intervene upon social connection as a transdiagnostic factor to promote health & well-being in older adults. Special attention will be paid to the role of social connection in suicide prevention and dementia caregiving.

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe three aspects of social relationships that are associated with better health.
  • Identify at least three evidence-informed strategies for promoting social connection.
  • Select at least one community resource or intervention for further study.

Finding What Works to Cultivate Connection


  • Emily Bower, PhD (Assistant Professor, School of Graduate Psychology, Pacific University


Social disconnection–including loneliness and isolation–is associated with negative health outcomes and low quality of life, but finding what works to create meaningful social connections across the lifespan can be challenging. This presentation will describe an evidence-informed tool for addressing social disconnection to help attendees more effectively promote new connections for themselves or people they work with. The presenter will share lessons learned from researching and implementing social connection interventions in multiple settings.

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify strategies for addressing barriers to social connection.
  • Describe a cognitive-behavioral framework of social disconnection.

Connecting the Dots: Cultivating Community Among Marginalized Aging Populations


  • Aaron Guest, PhD, MPH, MSW, He/Him (Assistant Professor of Aging, Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging; Senior Global Futures Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory; Research Fellow, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute; Affiliate, Institute for Social Science Research & The Design School)   


The National Strategy to Advance Social Connection emphasizes the importance of social connections for overall health, particularly in older adulthood. Nearly one-fourth of older adults report being socially isolated, and one-third of adults over 45 report loneliness. It is critical to understand and address the health impacts of these experiences, which are linked to higher rates of premature death, dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, and suicide. However, experiences of loneliness and social isolation are not evenly distributed across the older adult population. Sexual and gender minority populations, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, experience higher rates of loneliness and social isolation than their heterosexual peers. Individuals in rural communities face increased isolation due to geographic dispersion and limited transportation options, reducing opportunities for social connection. Addressing these disparities is essential for improving the health and well-being of all older adults. In this presentation, we will discuss what we know about the experience of these and other marginalized older adult groups and how we might work together to create a more advantageous aging experience for all.

Learning Objectives: 

  • Participants will be able to identify the key factors contributing to social isolation and loneliness among older adults, focusing on rural, LGBTQ, and other minoritized groups.
  • Participants will analyze the health impacts of social isolation and loneliness, including the increased risks of premature death, dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Participants will be able to develop effective, community-specific strategies to mitigate social isolation and loneliness, specifically tailored to the unique needs of rural, LGBTQ, and other minoritized older adult populations.

Continuing Education Credits

Please check back soon for updates. 

This is the first of four sessions of OGA's 2024 virtual conference. You can register for individual sessions or, at a discount, for the entire conference series. For an overview of all sessions, please visit the conference page.

Register here!

Kimberly Van Orden, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She directs the HOPE Lab (Helping Older People Engage), which studies programs to promote social connection and healthy aging and prevent suicide in later life. She co-directs the Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide at URMC, as well as a research fellowship in suicide prevention. She mentors students and fellows and maintains a clinical practice providing evidence-based psychotherapy to older adults.

Emily Bower, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Clinical Psychology PhD Program at Pacific University. Her research and clinical interests are in geriatric mental health, with a focus on promoting social connection and well-being throughout later adulthood. Her current research examines how people adjust to changes in social, cognitive, and physical functioning as they age with the goal of leveraging that information to develop behavioral interventions that promote mental health and social connection for older adults. Dr. Bower earned her PhD in clinical psychology from the SDSU/UC San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology and completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in the VA Advanced Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Veteran Mental Health and Suicide at the VA Center of Excellence for Suicide.

Aaron Guest, PhD, MPH, MSW, is an interdisciplinary trained social-environmental gerontologist and Assistant Professor of Aging at the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. Dr. Guest’s research is focused on the predominant social and environmental domains in older adults' lives and how knowledge can lead to increased understanding of and improvements in health. Through this work, he seeks to develop novel, tailored health interventions that can be utilized to increase the diffusion and translation of health innovations and thus increase access and utilization of critical health programs and services for older adults and their families. In short, he aims to create the optimal person-environment fit for the most advantageous health benefits for individuals as they age. In addition, Dr. Guest serves as Chair of the Secretariat of the Age-Friendly University Global Network, a collection of higher education institutions committed to promoting positive and healthy aging and enhancing the lives of older adults. He also serves on the Executive Board and Speaker of the Governing Council of the American Public Health Association and various other elected and appointed positions within the Gerontological Society of America, the Academy of Gerontology in Higher Education, the Accreditation for Gerontology Education Council, and the LGBTQ Health Caucus. 

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