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Senior Connections in Virginia Helps Locals Build Friendships, Find Social Support

We’ve all been there – saying something opposite of what we intended or that inadvertently hurts another person’s feelings. Well-meaning people sometimes make remarks that can unintentionally cast aging in a negative light.

“You look great for your age!”

“I can’t believe he was able to do that. He’s more than 80 years old!”

These types of comments were the subject of conversation at a recent Friendship Café in Richmond, Va. Friendship Cafés are neighborhood gathering places for seniors, giving them a space to connect with each other and the community, while also providing a free and nutritious midday meal. They’re made possible through UnitedHealthcare and Senior Connections, a Virginia-based nonprofit that empowers seniors to live with dignity and choice.

The educational portion of the events is led by gerontologist Annie Rhodes, who serves as the director of community outreach with Greater Richmond Age Wave — a collaboration of public and private organizations, businesses and community members working together to make the Richmond area a great place for all people to grow older. At this recent event, she challenged the group to rethink negative stereotypes.

Annie guided the group of seniors through a discussion to help them internalize the positive things that come along with aging — wisdom, compassion and patience.

“We’re all waking up a day older than we were the day before,” she said. “That’s part of what makes these Friendship Cafés so important. It gives us a chance to talk about the challenges that come with aging while also connecting around and celebrating all of the great things that come along with it, too.”

The cafés are one of the ways UnitedHealthcare and Senior Connections are working together to reduce social isolation among seniors in Virginia. These connection points are important because social isolation can contribute to negative health outcomes, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and depression.

In Virginia, UnitedHealthcare serves nearly 1.1 million members, including more than 262,000 Medicare beneficiaries.

At each Friendship Café, UnitedHealthcare’s Geri Hall, a provider outreach specialist, and Amenet Judah, a community outreach specialist, are on-hand to share information with attendees about healthcare and the Medicare program.

“Engaging with seniors in the greater Richmond community gives UnitedHealthcare a chance to serve as trusted navigators in their health journeys,” Judah said. “Partnerships like these allow us to share important information and answer questions so that each person can build relationships with their peers and make the best decisions about their healthcare.”