Social Isolation of Older Adults

Social Isolation of Older Adults - #94

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Humans are social beings and connections to others are vital to our health and well-being. Social isolation (i.e., the objective absence or paucity of social interactions with others) is a social determinant of health which is related to, but distinct from, the concept of loneliness (i.e., the subjective distressing feeling of being socially isolated).1,2

Older adults living in the community, especially those who are living alone.

Identify older patients who lack social connections to others and identify other potential co-existing conditions. Engage in advance care planning conversations and refer to aging-related social service organizations.

  1. Define social isolation and distinguish it from loneliness.
  2. Describe the impact of social isolation on patient health.
  3. Identify risk factors for social isolation.
  1. Veazie S, Gilbert J, Winchell K, Paynter R, Guise J-M. Addressing social isolation to improve the health of older adults: A rapid review. (Prepared by Scientific Resource Center under Contract No. 290-2017-00003-C.) Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2019. AHRQ Publication No. 19-EHC009-EF.
  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Social isolation and loneliness in older adults: Opportunities for the health care system. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  3. Kuiper JS, Zuidersma M, Oude Voshaar RC, et al. Social relationships and risk of dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal cohort studies. Ageing Res Rev. 2015;22:39-57. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2015.04.006
  4. Shaw JG, Farid M, Noel-Miller C, et al. Social isolation and Medicare spending: Among older adults, objective social isolation increases expenditures while loneliness does not. J Aging Health. 2017;29(7):1119-1143.
  5. Valtorta NK, Moore DC, Barron L, Stow D, Hanratty B. Older adults’ social relationships and health care utilization: A systematic review. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(4):e1-e10.
  6. Anderson GO, Thayer C. Social isolation: Myths vs. realities among adults age 40 and older. Washington, DC: AARP Research, July 2018.
  7. Smith ML, Steinman LE, Casey EA. Combatting social isolation among older adults in a time of physical distancing: The COVID-19 social connectivity paradox. Front Public Health. 2020;8:403.
  8. Lubben J, Blozik E, Gillmann G, et al. Performance of an abbreviated version of the Lubben Social Network Scale among three European community-dwelling older adult populations. Gerontologist. 2006;46(4):503-513.
  9. Cudjoe TKM, Roth DL, Szanton SL, Wolff JL, Boyd CM, Thorpe RJ Jr. The epidemiology of social isolation: National Health and Aging Trends Study. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020;75(1):107-113.
  10. Kotwal, AA, Cenzer, IS, Waite, LJ, et al. The epidemiology of social isolation and loneliness among older adults during the last years of life. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021; 1- 11.
  11. Malani P, Kullgren J, Solway E, Piette J, Singer D, Kirch M. Loneliness Among Older Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. September 2020. Available at:
This GFF ___ my competence in geriatrics.

Stacy Barnes, PhD, Director, Wisconsin Geriatric Education Center and Associate Professor of Practice, College of Nursing, Marquette University