Agencies work together to tackle social isolation for Vermont seniors

Valley News Calendar Editor
Published: 5/25/2019 9:33:27 PM
Modified: 5/25/2019 9:33:25 PM

BARRE — Isolation among senior citizens in Vermont isn’t new, and various senior citizens social service organizations in the state have been working to address it in the communities they serve.

But earlier this month, representatives from nearly two dozen groups met for the first time to discuss a unilateral, multi-agency approach to tackling the issue that affects thousands in Vermont’s increasingly aging population. The attendees included Senior Solutions’ Joann Erenhouse and Thompson Senior Center’s Deanna Jones (who participated remotely). Those two organizations serve seniors in the Upper Valley.

“This is such a serious issue for older Vermonters,” said Janet Hunt, executive director of Vermont Association of Area Agencies on Aging, who organized the gathering.

Kelly Melekis, a Vermonter and chairwoman of social work at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., gave the main presentation about the topic.

“I do believe in its potential to be the best place to grow old,” Melekis said of Vermont.

There is a difference between being alone and being isolated.

“Alone does not equal lonely,” Melekis said. “Living alone is a risk factor, living alone isn’t indicative of social isolation.”

The solution to social isolation isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Things that may work for one senior — such as attending community meals or volunteering — might not work for another. This is one of the reasons social isolation provides a “compelling challenge” to senior citizen service providers.

“We need social connection,” Melekis said. “It’s what we strive for when we feel isolated.”

Social isolation also can have health effects.

“We age more rapidly when we feel more isolated,” Melekis said. “When people are lonely they tend to behave in ways that make them more isolated.”

Social isolation can develop after the loss of a spouse or beloved family member or friend.

“A singular event often results in a cascade of transition,” Melekis said.

After the presentation, each attendee shared information about the work their respective organizations are doing to tackle social isolation. These programs range from transportation to community events to volunteer programs.

Social isolation also will be the topic of the upcoming Aging in Vermont Conference, which will take place on Sept. 27 in Killington, Vt.

The group plans to meet again to continue to come up with ideas that can be applied to a majority of elderly Vermonters who are socially isolated.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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