Friday, October 2, 2020

Saint Joseph’s Institute for Integrative Aging begins tele-social call program for older adults

By Lorraine Glowczak

Studies indicate that strong family and community connections lead to greater levels of health and

Heather DiYenno, Director of
Saint Joseph's College Institute for
Integrative Aging, of
 Add caption believes that
making a simple weekly phone call
to older adults who are homebound
can combat social isolation and
loneliness. The college is seeking
volunteers and recipients who may
be interested on participating in
their new tele-social call program.

happiness. Social isolation, on the other hand, can produce detrimental effects on one’s mental and physical wellbeing. Depression, anxiety, heart disease, and strokes are a few consequences of loneliness.

What is just as alarming is that the experience of isolation is growing. In fact, social seclusion has become so prevalent on a global scale that many countries are taking an active role in its prevention, including Great Britain’s recently established Minister of Loneliness.

The age group most directly affected by this epidemic is among older adults who are aging in place and/or have physical disabilities that prevent easy social connections with others. This is especially prevalent in remote, rural areas like the greater Sebago Lakes Region area.

But there is good news on the horizon.

It is with this awareness that Saint Joseph’s College of Maine recently took action and officially launched the Institute for Integrative Aging (IIA) in May 2019 to help alleviate loneliness among area residents. Since its inception, IIA has been providing a series of creative, age-friendly, and intergenerational activities that provide opportunities for connection and fulfillment. A tele-social call program is their latest endeavor in these efforts and will be getting underway soon.

“We are in the very beginning stages of this program and are looking for both volunteers and recipients who would like to participate,” Heather DiYenno, IIA Director said. “Volunteers will be trained and paired with a recipient of whose interests and hobbies they have in common. The purpose of the calls is simply to have fun and light-hearted conversations at least once a week, and the amount of time spent on each call is determined by the parties involved.”

The tele-social concept was developed by the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF), based out of Woodland Hills, CA. The idea was created by Dr. Scott Kaiser, MPTF’s Chief Innovation Officer and Director of Geriatric Cognitive Health at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute.

“I was introduced to the MPTF and their tele-social program while attending the Rural Aging Advisory Council in Washington D.C. last fall,” said DiYenno. “They opened my eyes on how effective making a simple weekly phone call was at combating loneliness and I wanted to implement a similar program at IIA.”

DiYenno has researched the platforms and mechanisms that are already in place at MPTF. IIA is collaborating their efforts with Southern Maine Agency on Aging (SMAA) and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and volunteers can apply for IIA’s tele-social call program on the SMAA website at

In addition to the application, volunteers will also be asked to fill out background checks and confidentiality forms. For those who may be concerned about the circulation of their personal phone numbers, they have no reason to fear.

“It’s important to let volunteers and recipients know that their personal phone numbers will not be used as part of the tele-social call and conversation,” DiYenno said. “A mechanism is created so that volunteers call a central line which will require a pin number. This will connect the volunteer to the recipient’s own phone. No personal information needs to be exchanged.”

During a time when required social distancing can further intensify social isolation, particularly among
vulnerable homebound individuals, participation in the tele-social call program may be the most important thing one person can do for another.

“A friendly call can brighten someone’s day,” DiYenno said.

One may be surprised at how much a phone conversation with an individual experiencing loneliness might also help the volunteer themselves, brightening their own days from time to time.

For more information on becoming a volunteer or to refer someone experiencing social isolation, contact Heather DiYenno at IIA@SjCME.EDU or at 207-893-7641.<

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