Understanding Social Isolation

Did you know that social isolation poses a greater health risk than obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes per day? Building on last week’s conversation about stress and anxiety. This week we dig deeper into understanding social isolation. Kathy Black,PhD, Professor of Social Work and Aging Studies at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee lends us her 40+ years of experience in the field of aging to help us get a better handle on what it means and what we can do about it.

Social Isolation vs Loneliness

Social isolation is a term often confused with loneliness. While they are closely related, the two terms do not necessarily mean the same thing. While people can be socially isolated by choice by choosing not to be socially engaged with other, loneliness is a subjective feeling of being alone. Kathy tells us that “about 25 to 60% of the American population reports feeling lonely at different times” and it is something that affects people across all age spectrum.

Factors That Lead to Social Isolation

The following (in no order of importance) are some of the factors that can lead to social isolation:

  • Age and gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Geography
  • Living alone
  • Physical and mental health
  • Mobility and transportation issues
  • Technology illiteracy
  • LGBT

What Can You Do?

In the current environment of “social distancing,” which professionals prefer to refer to as “physical distancing,” it can be difficult to avoid being isolated, but where there is a will there is a way! Current communication options including social media platforms, facetime and video chat applications, using computers, tablets and smartphones are an obvious solution. But those who choose not to utilize technology can still enjoy a phone call, write/receive a letter, volunteer electronically or by phone and stay connected to community via the television. Calling circles are also a great option. AARP recently developed AARP Connections, a program designed to connect people to local volunteers in their own community for support. Learn more about AARP Connections here. https://aarpcommunityconnections.org/

The impact of social isolation on our physical and mental well-being is significant, but we all have the ability to make a difference. Check on your neighbors. Make an extra plate at dinnertime for that person who lives alone. If you haven’t seen your neighbor who lives alone outside in a while, give them a call to check in. Share random acts of kindness. Create a culture of warmth and acceptance and it will benefit us all in long run!

Resources Mentioned

AARP CommunityConnections: https://aarpcommunityconnections.org/

AARP Coronavirus Facts & Updates: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-facts.html

AARP Crisis Textline – Connect immediately to support:https://www.crisistextline.org/

Grocery Delivery/Instacart: https://www.instacart.com/

Prepared Food Delivery/Uber Eats: https://www.ubereats.com/

Next Door App: https://nextdoor.com

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Liz Craven
Author: Liz Craven

Liz Craven, along with her husband Wes, owns Pro-Ad Media, publisher of Sage Aging ElderCare Guide, serving the local community for over 29 years. Liz lives in Lakeland and is very active in the local community, specifically in the area of aging. Liz serves on a number of local boards and committees including the Lakeland Vision and Age Friendly Lakeland.