The National Institute on Aging website put it best:
Loneliness and social isolation are different, but related. Loneliness is the distressing feeling of being alone or separated. Social isolation is the lack of social contacts and having few people to interact with regularly. You can live alone and not feel lonely or socially isolated, and you can feel lonely while being with other people.
For many, the pandemic has increased risks of social isolation and loneliness. Older adults have a greater risk for social isolation, often because of life changes in health, transportation, and/or other social reasons.
How does social isolation impact health?
The National Institute of Aging notes that social isolation negatively impacts health:
- People who are socially isolated or lonely are more likely to be admitted to the emergency room or to a nursing home.
- They may be at higher risk for health issues including: cardiovascular issues (high blood pressure and heart disease), obesity, mental health issues (anxiety and depression), and cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- People who are lonely experience emotional pain. Losing a sense of connection and community can change the way a person sees the world. Someone experiencing chronic loneliness may feel threatened and mistrustful of others. Emotional pain can activate the same stress responses in the body as physical pain.
How to decrease social isolation?
Here are ideas to help you stay connected (from the National Institute on Aging):
- Find an activity that you enjoy, restart an old hobby, or take a class to learn something new.
- Schedule time each day to stay in touch with family, friends, and neighbors in person, by email, social media, voice call, or text. Talk with people you trust and share your feelings. Suggest an activity to help nurture and strengthen existing relationships. Sending letters or cards is another good way to keep up friendships.
- Use communication technologies such as video chat, smart speakers, or even companion robots to help keep you engaged and connected.
- If you’re not tech-savvy, sign up for an online or in-person class at your local senior center, Council on Aging or public library to help you learn how to use email or social media.
- Stay physically active and include group exercise, such as joining a walking club or working out with a friend. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of activity a week that makes you breathe hard.
- Introduce yourself to your neighbors.
- Find a faith-based organization where you can deepen your spirituality and engage with others in activities and events.
- Join a cause and get involved in your community.
On Thursday, March 30th, from 6-8 p.m. there is a free, virtual screening of the documentary All the Lonely People, a film about “people developing resilience over loneliness and experts discovering solutions to isolation” (promotional material). The film will be followed by audience discussion. This will take place via Zoom, and you can sign up for the film screening and discussion.
Printable Flyer for All the Lonely People film (PDF, 382 kb)
- Find your local Council on Aging and Senior Center
- LifePath’s website
- The local chapter of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) connects adults aged 55+ to meaningful community work.