Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Health Related Sciences

First Advisor

Tracey L. Gendron, PhD

Second Advisor

Meghan Z. Gough, PhD

Third Advisor

Thelma B. Watson, PhD

Fourth Advisor

Faika Zanjani, PhD


Decades of research has established an unequivocal link between states of social connection and health status. Lack of social connection, whether construed as social isolation or loneliness, negatively influences health and is highly associated with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, fall risk, and premature death. Despite extensive research on social isolation and loneliness, evidence relative to the broader construct of social connection suffers. Few studies inform practice standards for community-based organizations. This study aimed to develop a multidimensional, continuous composite variable of social connection and use the composite variable to examine predictors with a socio-ecological lens.

A secondary data analysis was conducted with a sample of 12,116 older adults. The regression results showed that trauma, transition, and loss predicted lower social connection scores with greater strength than any of the other variables. Perceived barriers to access, housing type, and supportive services enrollment significantly predicted social connection, yet were overshadowed by the power of disruptive life events to negatively influence social connection. Additionally, the creation of a two-dimensional social connection measure underscored the criticality of subjective experiences of social connection. In this study, positive social connection scores were highest among the oldest. Missingness in the data rendered it impossible to validly include race or ethnicity, leaving important questions about health equity and racial equity unanswered. Findings can inform data collection, intake and screening processes, referral pathways, student and provider training, early identification, and strategic alliances between community-based service providers and adult protective services and victim assistance services.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission


Included in

Gerontology Commons