You have heard the media blitz, but you are thinking, THAT will never happen to me. Never in our long career and active life do we think about social isolation. That impacts only elders or maybe someone in a very special situation, we tell ourselves. In fact, during those long work decades the opposite is true, we can’t wait to get to the hotel room upstairs and away from lengthy business meetings for some alone time and to decompress.
Make no mistake about it. Social isolation is real and can happen quickly through sickness, end of career, or death of close friends and family. Social isolation affects people around the world and across all population bases. Especially hard hit are children and elders.
Social isolation for elders comes in emotional, physical, cultural and geographic forms. Emotional isolation can occur when someone has few friends, infrequent contact with family, or they feel disconnected from the people around them. Physical isolation, on the other hand, is where elders live alone, in care homes, or without transportation. Geographic isolation exists where elders live in rural areas or in places with no public transportation. Finally, cultural isolation may occur to those who experience a language or cultural barrier.
Statistics and Impact
Statistics provided by the AARP Research Center recount, more than 8 million adults over the age of 50 are affected by social isolation in the United States. Similarly, in Canada, 20% of elders live alone, and approximately 50% report feeling lonely. In Australia, reports suggest that over 30% of elders live alone, and around 4% are not in contact with family or friends. These statistics are alarming and highlight the need for targeted interventions to address social isolation.
The impact of social isolation is not just psychological but it also has a deep economic impact. As an AARP Research project pointed out, it is expected that social isolation in the elder population will cost $6.7 billion in the coming years. The cost will be incurred in the form of hospitalization, emergency visits, and long-term care which could be avoided by identifying and addressing social isolation in early stages.
The global studies suggest that social isolation among elders can lead to several adverse health conditions. Social isolation and loneliness can impact cognitive function, increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Social isolation can also lead to depression and other mental health issues like anxiety and stress. Additionally, elders who feel isolated are more prone to heart diseases, stroke and high blood pressure.
The statistics highlighted in are a wake-up call to our society. Our elder population needs increased attention from all stakeholders in an effort to combat social isolation. Senior living arrangements that provide social engagement, neighborhood programs, technology outreach, and continued family and friend involvement are essential. These are a few aspects that organizations, governments, and communities can focus on to mitigate the effects of social isolation.