What is Social Isolation?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) social isolation is “a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships.” In other words, social isolation is a lack of social contact. While social isolation is different than loneliness-which is a feeling of being disconnected from others--often the two go hand-in-hand.
It’s getting worse
Social isolation is a growing epidemic, especially among older adults. Because of limited mobility, shrinking social circles, and increased health risk, older adults are finding it more and more difficult to remain socially engaged.
What are the risks?
Of course, social isolation and loneliness are uncomfortable and cause mental and emotional difficulties for older adults, but the effects of social isolation also translate into harsh physical realities. Here are a couple of alarming statistics about how isolation is connected to physical as well as mental health:
Research suggests that loneliness is as bad for you as 15 cigarettes a day
Social isolation has been connected to physical pain
In a 3-year study of 1376 patients, those who were socially isolated were 49% more likely to have died
In a study with women who were diagnosed with breast cancer, women who were socially isolated had a 66% greater likelihood of death from all causes, and double the chance of death from breast cancer specifically.
Social isolation has also been linked to a number of difficulties such as poor sleep, a compromised immune system, and cognitive decline in older adults.
What do we do? More importantly, how can we tackle this problem when it comes to the socially isolated who can’t even leave their home?
Loneliness isn’t just an uncomfortable state of being--it’s an epidemic that requires immediate attention. According to the former administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “If we want to achieve health for our population, especially vulnerable people, we have to address loneliness”
Here’s the problem. The people most in need of social engagement--those that can’t leave their home, including many older adults--are the least able to participate in socially engaging activities. There are a few ways to tackle social isolation and loneliness without leaving the home however, like:
Engage with older adults over shared activities. We get it--it can be awkward to maintain conversation with older adults in your life, especially when it seems like you don’t have anything in common. Still, in many cases, family and close friends are the only outlets of engagement an older adult has, so it’s important to step in if you can. One way to eliminate awkwardness is to focus on a shared activity, like a puzzle, game of chess, baking project, or whatever it is you like to do.
If you feel isolated, try volunteering. Volunteering is not only a way to interact with others, it also makes people feel accomplished and happier. If you’re concerned about the older adults in your own life, volunteer alongside them. It’s a great way to help friends and family engage with others while also staying connected to them yourself.
Share a meal. It sounds simple, but sharing one meal with an older adult can go a long way in terms of social engagement. Back when OneClick.chat was Potluck, we operated on this very same simple yet powerful principle: people love sharing meaningful conversation over a meal.
Pay attention to technology. The silver lining in the social isolation problem is that technology is making strides to tackle the epidemic head-on. With tools like Grandpad, Jitterbug, and Teliken, it’s easier than ever to stay socially engaged at home. OneClick.chat is fighting isolation via simple, easy to use video chat.
There’s nothing quite like a face-to-face conversation, especially when it comes to older adults. In a Wallstreet Journal article about loneliness, a man spoke on what it meant to have a home health aide around, saying “You don’t realize just how lonely you are until you see someone and you talk to them.” At OneClick.chat, we were interested in bringing face-to-face conversation to the older adults who need it the most--the ones who find it difficult or impossible to leave their homes and forge new connections, or maintain old ones.
To do this, we’ve made our video chat platform as easy to use as possible, with no downloads, meeting IDs or complicated features. Backed by NIH grant research, the platform is specifically designed to work for older adults, and serves as an easy way to connect from home, but still face-to-face. For a free trial meeting room, click here. Or, if you’d like to know more about our research with the NIH, click here.