Older Adults
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Powered by connection: Social solutions to loneliness in older adults and people with disabilities

May 6, 2024
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The Administration for Community Living (ACL) is the federal agency dedicated to advancing independence and inclusion of older adults and people with disabilities. Each May the ACL celebrates older Americans. The 2024 theme is Powered by Connection, which recognizes the profound impact that meaningful relationships and social connections have on our health and well-being. In the past couple of years, the Center for Community Solutions has partnered with organizations that serve both adults and people with disabilities to assess their needs. In these assessments, we take a holistic approach to what a person needs including their social and emotional needs.

Data Source: Livable Cuyahoga Needs Assessment & MaxHousing Assessment

Measuring loneliness in Cuyahoga County

Using the Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale, we gain a better understanding of the strength of connections people have to their communities and the loneliness and isolation that may result when those connections are weak. In separate assessments, we asked older adults and adults with disabilities and chronic conditions to answer questions showing the frequency of connection. The chart below shows the results of Cuyahoga County residents who answered they “sometimes” or “always” experience one of the associated measures of loneliness. Nearly a third of older adults and two thirds of people with disabilities or chronic conditions reported experiencing these feelings.

One of the most effective ways to protect against social isolation and loneliness is through connections both to individuals and community.

Naming and understanding the scope of the issue is important but not the end goal, what comes next needs to be directed by the impacted population, in this case older adults and adults with disabilities. One of the most effective ways to protect against social isolation and loneliness is through connections both to individuals and community. In an assessment focused on Summit County older adults, we found that residents rely on social interactions to stay connected to their communities. They find connections through family & friends, in faith-based groups, at libraries and senior centers and through social media.

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How older adults in Summit County stay connected

Cuyahoga County older adults are interested in a wide variety of activities that can keep them connected ranging from going to restaurants to visiting museums and shopping for fun.

Ways to connect and barriers that can deepen loneliness

Similarly, people with disabilities are interested in making connections and find that events, social media and attending meetings are the best ways to connect.

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It leads us to ask the following question: with high interest in community participation and forming connections with others, why do high levels of loneliness persist? In many instances it is because there is barrier to access for the person wishing to make connections.

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Meaningful connections can give meaning to life, they bring joy and purpose at all ages of life and to people of all abilities.

When people were asked what keeps them from taking part in community events, common barriers to being more connected were lack of transportation, cost of events, feeling like you don’t fit in, lack of accessibility, lack of knowledge of community events and not having anyone to go with them to events or locations. Prioritizing connection among populations that have told us they lack companionship, feel alone and left out creates inclusion and belonging, which has benefits for the individual and community.

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