"Social isolation is commonly defined as a low quantity and quality of contact with others. A situation of social isolation involves few social contacts and few social roles, as well as the absence of mutually rewarding relationships"1
Social Isolation in Seniors, Volume 1 is a great resource for understanding the widespread issue. According to the report published by the Canadian government, social isolation can lead to:
increased chance of premature death
reduced sense of well-being
more depression, dementia
more disability from chronic diseases
poor mental health
increased use of health and support services
reduced quality of life
poor general health
increased number of falls
The report also states that lacking social connections can increase one’s chances for early death to a similar degree to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
image source: AARP, 2017 “The Major Health Issue Affecting Seniors”
How do seniors become socially isolated?
Understanding how it happens is the first step to preventing it all together. According to the report, Social isolation among seniors can be a result of several factors, including:
Physical changes (such as sickness or disability)
Life changes (such as the loss of a spouse), which can reduce the number of social contacts and limit activities
Social and environmental factors such as poverty and inadequate transportation
We all find it difficult to cope with changes, especially when they are unexpected and unplanned. As we age, our day-t0-day lives become routine which brings comfort to the challenges around us. When that routine is broken, issues can arise.
lacking social connections can increase one’s chances for early death to a similar degree to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
What puts seniors at risk of becoming socially isolated?
The National Seniors Council’s Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors 2013–2014 states that the following factors may place seniors at risk of social isolation and loneliness:
being age 80 or older
having compromised health status
having multiple chronic health problems
having no children or contact with family
lacking access to transportation
living with low income
changing family structures
being left behind by younger people migrating for work
location of residence
experiencing critical life transitions such as retirement, death of a spouse, or losing a driver’s license
lacking awareness of or access to community services and programs
being a caregiver
As you can see, this is a diverse list of factors that takes seniors' socioeconomic, familial, and personal lives into account. Seniors are not a homogenous group, and different factors/circumstances impact people in different ways.
Protecting against social isolation
According to a Queensland Government report called the Cross government project to reduce social isolation of older people, protective factors, traits, situations or circumstances like these can help seniors to socially integrate and reduce the risks of social isolation:
being in good physical and mental health
having enough income and safe housing
feeling safe in your neighbourhood
having communication and literacy skills to find and get needed services
having satisfying relationships
having a supportive social network
feeling connected to and valued by others
having access to health and community services
feeling beneficial to society
having access to transportation
having a higher level of education
Say Hello to Jack
One of the driving forces behind Hello Jack is protecting against and preventing social isolation. The connection users can make can develop communication and literacy skills, develop satisfying relationships, create a social network, and offer the feeling of being values by others.
Social isolation of seniors - Volume 1: Understanding the issue and finding solutions
Cross government project to reduce social isolation of older people
A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada