Social Isolation: What is it and Why is it important? -delete

Social isolation should be considered a health risk. Many older adults are socially isolated and this should be of concern to all of us. We need more research on the best ways to deal with it. The following blog post from the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal outlines what we can do to help those who are socially isolated.Why Is Social Isolation A Health Problem?

Humans live with others, and we support each other; that’s what has given us an evolutionary advantage. So what happens when a person doesn’t have others to be with – when they are socially isolated? Older people are especially at risk of being socially isolated. By the time people reach their eighties, the majority live on their own, mostly because of widowhood. This is particularly the case for older women who are more likely to be widowed than older men. Social networks get smaller for other reasons as well – children along with grandchildren may have moved away, and aging siblings and friends may have died.What Does Research Show Us about Those Who Are Socially Isolated?Child and Older Woman

For many decades, researchers have been interested in social isolation and the impacts it has on people’s health. One question studied has been whether people who have more social relationships or more supportive relationships live longer than those with fewer or less supportive ones. Across 148 studies, it was concluded that people with more or better social relationships lived longer.

Other research has looked at the kinds of social activities people participate in and the health effects they have on them. For example, in a large study, people were asked about the activities they engaged in and whether they had disabilities. When checking in five years later, researchers found that more socially engaged people were 43 percent less likely to have become disabled.

As with any study, there are multiple factors at play. While we cannot conclude that lack of social isolation directly leads to health decline, we know that social isolation is a risk factor that increases the likelihood of experiencing health problems.What Can You Do to Help Those Who Are Socially Isolated?

Many older adults are socially isolated. Public Health Canada outlines a number of things you can do to help improve the quality of life of the person in your care:

Explore home and community support options. Aside from the support you offer, home care services may allow a person with special needs to stay home independently as long as possible.

  • Consider seniors’ centres, support groups and programs of disease specific organizations.
  • Consider day programs, meal delivery, transportation services and in-home supports.

Maintain social contacts. Keeping in touch with friends and family and being socially connected can make a difference in how well the individual copes with health and living challenges.

  • Consider smartphones, iPads, computer software (e.g. Skype, FaceTime) and social networking sites.

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For a greater understanding of the importance of social connections for older adults,
watch My Social Connections