Lean on Me: Tips to Build Community for Older Adults

By Maureen Hewitt

Did you know loneliness increases the risk for dementia? And the risk of early death, especially among the elderly?

Of all the things InnovAge and other elder care providers do for their program participants, perhaps the most important is to help them make connections with other participants and community members.

I recently participated on a panel focusing on concepts to unite different age groups with the idea of helping senior adults avoid isolation and create new relationships. Many groups working with older adults do much to decrease loneliness and isolation through their programs and link participants to their communities. Every program is different, however InnovAge has found success with several types of activities.

These are a few examples of what we do:

  • The Thornton, Colorado center hosted children from a day care program at the center’s Super Bowl 50 party.
  • The Aurora, Colorado center gets help from a group of developmentally disabled women who pitch in with crafts and meals.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico center participants interact with miniature horses and their owners during regular visits.
  • Denver, Colorado center Occupational Therapist Susan Parks brings her dog, Rosie, to the center every day. Rosie participates in therapy sessions with participants.

Connections between participants happen in a variety of ways. Pet programs are just one way to bring older adults together. We’ve also learned the importance of bringing community members into the centers. Doing so has a lasting and positive effect for all involved.


Children and students

Children from local day care centers interact with older adults regularly by working on crafts, trick-or-treating or reading to participants. The activities benefit the children, as they connect with an older person, and the seniors, who enjoy activities with kids.

Faith communities

Faith-based organizations often build programming to bring together older adults and their faith. Volunteers from different faiths visit older adults to share activities, including teens from various organizations support activities such as music, movement or crafts.

Participants as volunteers

The biggest volunteer network is an adult day center’s own participants. Seasoned participants buddy-up with new participants to help orient them to the center. This may involve tours and details about daily on-site activities. In addition, participants often can be found volunteering in their centers by folding brochures, setting tables or handing out nametags, which provide important social interaction.

Finding one’s purpose is something we all desire, young or old. When providers of elder care bring the generations together this sense of purpose increases exponentially and helps all involved understand the importance of friendship and inclusion.


Maureen HewittMaureen Hewitt is the President and Chief Executive Officer of InnovAge, a Denver-based provider of comprehensive healthcare services for older adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico. Hewitt has held this role since 2006 and has led for-profit and nonprofit health care organizations for more than 25 years. Hewitt’s experience includes leading skilled nursing/sub-acute care facilities and acute care and rehabilitation hospitals, as well as serving in volunteer board positions. http://MyInnovAge.org.

One thought on “Lean on Me: Tips to Build Community for Older Adults

  1. D Jane July 4, 2016 / 5:08 pm

    I did not know loneliness increases the risk for dementia. I knew Alzheimer does though…


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