MIRECC / CoE
VISN 5 MIRECC - VA Connection Plans
Social Isolation and Older Adults | What is the VA Connection Plans intervention? |
How can I get Training on VA Connection Plans? | What does a VA Connection Plan Look Like? |
Is the VA Connection Plans intervention an evidence-based practice? | Contact Us
Social Isolation and Older Adults
Social isolation is a recognized risk for older adults, contributing to increased risk of depression, physical inactivity, mortality and death by suicide.1 As the global outbreak of COVID-19 has introduced significant health risks to social interactions, strategies to promote social connection are critical. Older adults with SMI were at elevated risk for social isolation even before the pandemic;2 physical distancing restrictions may limit coping strategies and further isolate older adults with SMI, while general societal uncertainty may trigger depression, anxiety and disorganization in this vulnerable population.3
What is the VA Connection Plans intervention?
The VA Connection Plans intervention is an adaptation of the highly effective Suicide Safety Plans intervention and was created to assist older adults experiencing social isolation during COVID-19.4 Based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), this brief 1-2 session intervention is designed to help older adults create a “Connection Plan” to cope with distress related to social isolation. This biopsychosocial intervention is not a therapy and thus can be delivered by non-licensed independent provider staff such as Peer Specialists, increasing feasibility of use and dissemination. In each session, interventionists work with the older adult to create a Connection Plan with three parts: Mind (ways to change negative thoughts), Body (ways to change unpleasant body sensations), and Connections (ways to increase social engagement). Measurement-based care is a key element of VA Connection Plans. Interventionists and Veterans discuss and collaboratively monitor the targeted outcomes such as social isolation, loneliness, and self-efficacy. Veterans can see the clear connection between their proactive mindfulness and self-care and improved outcomes.
How can I get training on VA Connection Plans?
You can download the VA Connection Plan manual and materials HERE.
In addition, the VA Connection Plan Team will be presenting on the following webinars and calls:
|VA Connection Plans |
Twice monthly consultation office hours on Teams:
To join the VA Connection Plans team:
Users can join by navigating to the "Teams" tab within Microsoft Teams and clicking at the bottom where it says "Join or create a team." Then enter the code on the "Join a team with a code" card.
Join VA Connection Plans office hours to connect with a community of practice, to ask questions, to discuss how to serve Veterans’ unique needs, and to get tips from the field.
Questions? Contact Samantha.Hack@va.gov
Stayed tuned for more training announcements!
What does a VA Connection Plan look like?
To create a Connection Plan the Interventionist talks with the Veteran in order to get to know them, their challenges, and their strengths. Then they help the Veteran set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound (SMART) goals for body, mind and connection. Here is a simple example of a VA Connection Plan.
Body: Every day after lunch I will sit in my chair and practice noticing my muscles and relaxing them from my toes to the top of my head.
Mind: When I notice I am having the thought, “Nobody likes me,” I will look at photos of myself spending time with close friends and family members who care about me.
Connection: I made a list of 4 people from my church that I miss seeing while church is closed. I will call one of them every Sunday afternoon to say hi and ask how they are doing.
Is the VA Connection Plans intervention an evidence-based practice?
No. While VA Connection Plans are based in evidence-based practices like Suicide Safety Plans and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it has not been tested in large randomized controlled trials. However, evaluation of VA Connection Plans is ongoing and this website will be updated as findings are produced.
For further questions, contact our team:
Maryland site lead: Samantha Hack, Ph.D., LMSW (Samantha.Hack@va.gov)
Arkansas site lead: Prasad Padala, M.D. (Prasad.Padala@va.gov)
Clinical lead: Anjana Muralidharan, Ph.D. (Anjana.Muralidharan2@va.gov)
Evaluation lead: Amanda Peeples, Ph.D. (Amanda.Peeples@va.gov)
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25663
- Meesters, P. D., Stek, M. L., Comijs, H. C., et al. (2010). Social functioning among older community-dwelling patients with schizophrenia: A review. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 18(10), 862-878. doi:10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181e446ff
- Druss, B. G. (2020). Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in populations with serious mental illness. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.0894
- Van Orden, K. A., Bower, E., Lutz, J., et al. (2020). Strategies to promote social connections among older adults during “social distancing” restrictions. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2020.05.004
Disclaimer of external hyperlinks: This webpage contains links to webpages outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs website. The VA neither endorses nor has responsibility for the content of these external webpages.