Understanding how social ties affect health is challenging to grasp in its entirety. A person’s health is influenced by the quality of their social connections and the quantity of those connections. An increase in research shows two elements of social relationships worth focusing on, isolation and loneliness. Adults over the age of 50 are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of social isolation on their physical and mental wellbeing (Fakoya et al., 2020). Although it is wrong to think that all older persons are alone or lonely and that aging is the sole cause of social isolation and loneliness, many variables contribute to isolation and loneliness. Older adults are more prone to experience social isolation due to predisposing conditions, including living alone, losing relatives or friends, being unwell, or having sensory impairments (Blazer et al., 2020). These are just a few examples of the many. Social isolation can be episodic or long-term, depending on an individual’s circumstances and perspectives during their life.
Incidence and Impact of Social Isolation among the Elderly
Before the current decade, few resources had been devoted to better understanding the health effects of social isolation and how it affects individuals and society as a whole, as other risk factors for health. After more than two decades of research, it has become clear that socially isolated people are more likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer. As a result, some proof connections may have a more significant impact on mortality risk than other well-known risk variables generally recognized and taken into account by the health care sectors.
Individuals who are lonely and isolated or lonely are more likely to suffer from health disorders that worsen their isolation (Blazer et al., 2020). Conversely, the linkages between these risk factors and the health effects they cause are true. Social isolation can have detrimental effects on health, so it’s essential to consider all variables in a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. Wellbeing, quality of life, and significant health outcomes are linked to social isolation and other measures of social connectedness.
Family dispersion, limited mobility and finances, loss of family members and friends, and poor health are all risk factors for social isolation among the elderly. As with other risk factors, including smoking, lack of physical exercise, obesity, and high blood pressure, social isolation is associated with all-cause morbidity and death with similar consequences. Loneliness has also been linked to worse immune system function, cognitive decline, and mental health issues, including depression and dementia, among other things (Fakoya et al., 2020). Even though social isolation affects everyone at some time in their lives, research shows that the elderly are more prone to these feelings. Increasing levels of loneliness among the elderly have been linked to many social changes, including less intergenerational relationships, more geographic mobility, and a weakening of local bonds.
Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and mental health issues, including cognitive decline, depression, dementia, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation and suicide, among the elderly population. Although the evidence is weaker, social isolation may raise the likelihood of developing various health issues (such as type-2 diabetes mellitus and excessive cholesterol), as well as restricting one’s ability to go about one’s everyday activities. The incidence of violence and abuse towards elderly adults has grown over the years, which is among the direct effects of being isolated (Wu, 2020). With the increase in violence, they are bound to be more vulnerable.
There are three possible explanations for the negative health impacts of loneliness and social isolation among the elderly. Individuals who are socially isolated are more likely to be stressed out than those surrounded by friends and family, which means their bodies are more likely to cope with the stress they face regularly. Second, they lead to physiological maintenance and repair mechanisms that are insufficient or ineffective. Many physical health issues, such as coronary heart disease diabetes, are linked to poor sleep quality and quantity, and poor sleep is connected with an increased risk of mortality. Social isolation and loneliness are third factors contributing to behavioral risk factors such as decreased physical activity, poor nutrition, non-compliance with medical treatment, and increased smoking and alcohol intake.
Preventing health problems before they arise is the fundamental goal of primary prevention. This can be done by modifying health habits or changing the physical environment to reduce vulnerabilities to risks (Cacioppo et al., 2015). Primary prevention for social isolation may involve public health awareness initiatives and identifying those at high risk. Community and city development for housing and communal areas that enable the gathering of people, interactions, and preventing isolation might also be considered an alternative strategy. As a result of these efforts, isolation in the population can be reduced.
Secondary prevention tries to minimize the negative effects of a sickness or a situation that has already taken place. In this example, it refers to reducing the negative effects of isolation. This intervention strategy includes development and encouragement to join support groups within the community and encourage the individuals to join volunteer groups. In the recent past, education on how to use technology has increased. The elderly can communicate with their family more often via social media and teleconferencing applications through this skill.
Post-diagnosis tertiary prevention can limit or mitigate its effects as the disease or condition progresses. Tertiary preventive techniques aim to alleviate long-term social exclusion or loneliness by addressing the underlying causes. Strategies at this level include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), where the elderly can get counseling from experts and help manage symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem (Cacioppo et al., 2015). Another strategy at this level is a home visit to the elderly residences. In the visits, nurses or social workers may assess their wellbeing, provide counseling, and offer company.
Social isolation among the elderly has been a prevalent issue. Research shows that this has a direct link to their health deterioration. Among the impacts include increased abuse of the elderly, substance abuse, depression, and suicide rates (Cacioppo et al., 2015). All these impacts reduce the quality of life for the elderly. However, with intervention strategies, the isolation can be reduced. The first is to prevent by creating an environment that reduces chances of isolation. However, strategies such as support groups and volunteer programs can help if isolation occurs. Lastly, in extreme cases, therapy may be involved and home visits to offer support and counseling.
Blazer, D., Lustig, T., & Kearney, M. (2020). Social isolation and loneliness in older adults (1st ed.). National Academies Press.
Cacioppo, S., Grippo, A., London, S., Goossens, L., & Cacioppo, J. (2015). Loneliness. Perspectives On Psychological Science, 10(2), 238-249. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691615570616
Fakoya, O., McCorry, N., & Donnelly, M. (2020). Loneliness and social isolation interventions for older adults: a scoping review of reviews. BMC Public Health, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-8251-6
Wu, B. (2020). Social isolation and loneliness among older adults in the context of COVID-19: a global challenge. Global Health Research And Policy, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41256-020-00154-3