St. John’s Home Plays Host to Important WXXI Aging Discussion

 Aging Together in New York is a statewide, multi-platform public media initiative addressing social isolation among older adults. As a leading community resource on all topics of aging in the Rochester area, St. John’s was selected to host a meaningful panel discussion in front of a studio audience of St. John’s residents, employees, and aging experts from across the Rochester community. The event was recorded in the Community Center at St. John’s Home and aired on WXXI News program Connections with Evan Dawson on Monday, May 15.

The panel of experts included St. John’s Vice President of Skilled Services Nate Sweeney, Rochester resident Mary Terry, and Yeates Conwell, M.D., a geriatric psychiatrist from the “Vital Aging” initiative of the University of Rochester’s Aging Institute.

“Many people assume that the loneliest people in society are the oldest people,” said host Evan Dawson to begin the program after framing the discussion with a story about a young Paul McCartney and his neighbor Eleanor Rigby. “But that is not true,” he continued, referencing recent data that shows that “adults over the age of 65 are the least lonely in our society.”

Dr. Yeates Conwell, Nate Sweeney and Mary Terry with Evan Dawson

Still, loneliness and the threat of social isolation are issues facing older adults throughout the Rochester area and across the country. Dr. Yeates Conwell helped dispel some of the myths about older Americans and loneliness while also addressing the issues some older people do face relative to the threat of social isolation as they get older. “By and large, older people tend to do better in their adaptation to the stressors of aging than one might expect,” explained Dr. Conwell. That theme of the resilience of older adults was echoed frequently throughout the hour.

When asked about the process of people moving into long-term care and the significant social transition that comes with such a physical move, Nate Sweeney explained how St. John’s supports new residents to help them stay connected. “What we try to do is get to know the person and what is meaningful to them as swiftly as we can,” said Sweeney. “We have a lot of skilled social workers and skilled folks in therapeutic recreation who try to find out how does someone want to navigate this space. Are they more introverted? Are they more extroverted? Those immediately come into play for the types of activities that we put on as well as the type of engagement that someone might most benefit from.”

Mary Terry lives in her home in Rochester. At 67, she says she lives a fulfilling life. “I have a lot. My main thing– and my kids would tell you this if they were here– the main thing that satisfies me the most is my kitchen and my bedroom,” she explained. “I love to cook, and I have a queen-sized bed with like 15 pillows on it.” Mary’s powerful first-hand perspectives on growing older in Rochester were deeply rooted in faith, family, resilience, and gratitude.

Liz Sabo shares her insights with Evan Dawson, the panel, and the studio audience

Brickstone by St. John’s resident Liz Sabo has appeared on Connections with Evan Dawson before. This time, she took the microphone in the St. John’s Home community center as an audience member and identified an all-too-common scenario for why some older adults may start to feel lonely: serving as a caregiver for a loved one living with dementia. She also suggested people of all ages practice active listening to help themself and others avoid feeling socially isolated. “If more people could do it with each other– to take the time to do the active listening and give them the time and space to say things, and then meet them where that is,” said Sabo. “And then they feel really heard and really known.”

Dr. Yeates Conwell agreed with Sabo about active listening. “Absolutely, and it’s really hard to do,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to create that environment and value that skillset (of active listening) and teach people how to do it.” Dr. Conwell also went on to acknowledge and discuss the “special circumstances of caregivers who are dedicating so much of their time and lives and energy towards the care of another person and become isolated so easily in that role.”

Running well over an hour, the program features unique insights from the panelists and other audience members from community organizations who support older adults across the Greater Rochester area.

Watch or listen to the entire episode of Connections by clicking here.

Additional Resources:

NPR: America has a loneliness epidemic. Here are 6 steps to address it.

University of Rochester Center for Social Ties and Aging

St. John’s Online Dementia Resource Center Website

Business Insider: Harvard researchers discovered a major cause of loneliness — and the key to fighting it.



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