Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System

Authors
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Report
February 2020

Many older adults in the United States experience social isolation and loneliness, which are associated with increased risks for premature mortality, dementia, and other poor health outcomes. Since older adults often interact regularly with health systems, these organizations are well positioned to identify and alleviate social isolation and loneliness. This report summarizes the evidence on the physical, cognitive, and behavioral impacts of social isolation and loneliness on individuals age 50 or older, with a focus on low-income and underserved subpopulations.

This resource also synthesizes research on successful interventions for addressing loneliness and social isolation. While the evidence base is limited, features of promising interventions include: (1) educational approaches; (2) consumer engagement in program design; (3) patient referrals to social services; (4) peer support groups; (5) cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training; and (6) technological strategies, such as social media virtual communities and video-conferencing software.

The report also outlines recommendations for health systems to consider in reducing the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness on older adults. Recommendations include but are not limited to: (1) using validated tools to identify those most at risk; (2) creating public awareness campaigns; (3) incorporating lessons on social isolation and loneliness into training curricula; and (4) fostering partnerships between health care systems, community-based organizations, and public health entities.

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Population Addressed
Frail Older Adults
People with Behavioral Health and Social Needs
Key Questions Answered
  • What is the impact of social isolation and loneliness on older adults?

  • What are promising interventions for addressing social isolation and loneliness?

Level of Evidence
Expert Opinion
What does this mean?