Social Isolation and how you can help

A surprising number of aging adults are affected by social isolation. We may not notice unless we look for the problem. Sadly it could be “out of sight, out of mind.” According to AARP Foundation’s Connect 2 Affect, more than eight million adults ages 50 years and older are affected by isolation. What causes social isolation and how can we help our friends, family and neighbors that are experiencing this growing health epidemic?

Is it a health epidemic? You bet! Connect 2 Affect compares the health risks of social isolation to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! The National Institute on Aging said social isolation and loneliness can lead to other health problems like cognitive impairment, depression and heart disease.

Often times we talk ourselves out of our concerns or ignore the signs of social isolation. We may think that a caregiver can’t be lonely because they are always with the loved one they are caring for. We might wonder why our friend doesn’t join us for coffee anymore, but not further investigate the matter.

When we look closer at social isolation we find that it is often the outcome of a combination of causes. The most common causes of social isolation are connected with transportation issues, poor health, life transitions or role changes,  societal barriers, financial limitations and the lack of access to services. 

So for example, the caregiver may feel alone and trapped by their new role. The friend that isn’t joining you for coffee isn’t anti-social, she’s on a fixed income. Someone with hearing loss may have difficulty talking on the phone and might remove themselves from social situations. An aging adult may not have access to transportation in a rural setting or the money to pay for it.

We all need social connections for our physical and mental well-being. So a few things that you could do to help in your own social circle or neighborhood would be to check in on a friend or neighbor you haven’t seen in a while or invite them over for coffee, organize a neighborhood potluck or game night and pick up your neighbor that doesn’t have a ride, volunteer with a food delivery service or be a volunteer visitor through your local senior center or church. Anyway you can help the person engage in meaningful activities with other people will also be beneficial to them.

If you think you may know someone experiencing social isolation you can use the tools below to get started on finding the resources to help.

Take the isolation assessment

Find local resources

*sources: AARP Foundation Connect 2 Affect, National Institute on Aging