Combating Social Isolation in Older Adults

Social isolation and loneliness are among top concerns for older adults. Feelings of loneliness are linked to health concerns including depression and cognitive decline, and unfortunately, health issues that many seniors experience like mobility challenges or hearing loss can exacerbate loneliness. In fact, research shows that loneliness is just as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

This is a vicious cycle all too many older adults are experiencing – the National Poll on Healthy Aging found and one in three older adults say they lack regular companionship. Findings from a recent survey conducted by GreatCall support this – with 52% of older adults ages 65+ experience feelings of loneliness a few times a year, 14% reported once a week, and 21% feel lonely every day.

GreatCall, in partnership with Laurie Orlov of Aging in Place Technology Watch, has compiled the latest research and emerging solutions to address social isolation in effort to increase awareness of this global issue. The research, titled “Fighting Social Isolation Among Older Adults” shows:

  • Social isolation is linked to poorer health outcomes and higher healthcare costs, adding an additional $6.7billion in health-related spending, according to AARP
  • Social isolation and loneliness are more prominent in the US than the UK or Japan (The Kaiser Family Foundation)
  • A range of solutions to combat social isolation are emerging in the US and abroad. For instance, the AARP Public Policy Institute now encourages health professionals to screen for loneliness, and we’re seeing more and more intergenerational programs connecting older adults with young people. Abroad, Bloomberg Philanthropies has partnered with cities in the UK and Spain to create apps that connect seniors with friends and family. While many of these are successful in communities, none has emerged as scalable.
  • Technology is emerging as a solution, particularly voice technology, as simply talking with a device can produce positive emotion that helps combat loneliness.

You may be wondering, “How can I help my older family members feel less lonely”?

Our survey found that the answer may be simpler than we think – older adults are truly seeking connection, and it is crucial that their family members and friends are reaching out and putting in effort to maintain connection.

Findings show:

  • 55% said phone calls with family and friends has made the biggest impact in helping them feel less lonely
  • 50% said that having a community or family that plans activities would be most helpful in maintaining social connections
  • Of those experiencing loneliness and depression, 34% choose to talk to a friend about it over a family member or doctor

While technology tools like phones and video chatting can help – as nearly 30% think a cellphone would help maintain social connections – it’s clear that older adults are just looking for a meaningful connection with another human being.

Off-setting feelings of loneliness with entertainment can also provide a benefit. A majority of respondents said that watching TV or a movie, or reading a book or magazine, helps them feel better if they’ve been feeling lonely. This is closely followed by staying active – getting out of the house and going for a walk or taking an exercise class. Programs such as those in community centers, intergenerational connections and lifelong learning institutes provide support across the country.

The first step to combatting loneliness is recognizing the feelings of loneliness. From there, it can be as simple as a phone call to a friend to start feeling better.

To gain deeper understanding of the global problem that is social isolation, and efforts made across the world to combat this serious issue, visit our report, “Fighting Social Isolation Among Older Adults”.

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56 thoughts on “Combating Social Isolation in Older Adults

  1. Becky Shepherd
    October 6, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    Hi, my dad lives near Anderson Indiana. Would he be able to get this service or is it only in UK?

    1. Aaron Chitwood
      October 7, 2019 at 10:46 pm

      Hi Becky, Our products operate on GreatCall plans, which are powered by the nation’s largest and most dependable wireless network (Verizon), and are available in most areas across the USA. Here is some more information about our coverage:

      1. Evelyn Morris
        November 23, 2019 at 7:50 pm

        I have Verizon for my cell phone and they are the worst service I have had.

        1. Anonymous
          December 30, 2019 at 1:37 am

          I agree about Verizon. Have had numerous problems with them,

        2. Barbara McKenna Lhomme
          January 27, 2020 at 11:50 pm

          I have had Verizon for almost 8 years. I’ve never had a problem with them. Their service reaches so much better than some of the other big companies. I’ll stay with them.

      2. Susan Walch
        January 26, 2020 at 12:14 am

        I disagree about Verizon, I left the big Bell and love Verizon, best service I’ve had, ever. I’d love to know how to use this service. I’m pretty active but sometime find I feel older and longer when around complaining people my age. I isolate to stay away from negativity.

  2. Michele
    October 6, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    Excellent article ! Look forward to more in the future! Thanks…

  3. Bonnie Maloney
    October 8, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Easiest cell phones for elderly to use. Nearly blind

    1. Margie Meehan
      January 26, 2020 at 12:13 am

      Verizon may advertise as “nation wide”. However many of us are limited to only 1 service that is reliable n in my travels know for a fact it is great service from east to west coasts and north to south!!!…Verizon isnt.

  4. Anonymous
    October 12, 2019 at 10:10 am

    So glad to see this concern for the elderly and giving all the impute was just what we all can use. Thankfulness for caring people.

  5. Patricia Ewing
    October 13, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    I had your great call medical device for 6 years then my battery died and was sent a new one, in April 2019 a month later I received a recall notice & had to send it in- I called for months to see when I cold get a new device– never did– poor customer service & very disappointed in Great Call

    1. Aaron Chitwood
      October 14, 2019 at 6:38 pm

      We’re sorry to hear that. Would you please give us a call so we can look into this together? We are available at 1-800-733-6632, 5am to 10pm PT, 7 days a week.

    2. Horst Brinkmann
      November 11, 2019 at 4:10 am

      My device doesn’t even hold the charge all day, thinking about giving it up! Had one years ago it stayed charged for 3 days. It finally went , got this one and not as good. I charge every night, in the middle of the day, it beeps, battery low. What good would it be in an emergency.

      1. Aaron Chitwood
        November 13, 2019 at 10:58 pm

        We’re sorry to hear that. Would you please give us a call so we can look into this together? We are available at 1-800-733-6632, 5am to 10pm PT, 7 days a week.

  6. Millicent coulter
    October 17, 2019 at 4:21 am

    Very much needed by many

  7. Barbara Ey
    October 18, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    The older person can use a smart phone to connect with family members as often as they want. Texting, sending simple pix, usually will generate a response and often lead to “techy” conversations! This is so much fun! The young people working at the phone co. offices are generally eager to help you learn how to use the phones. My phone is my lifeline to connect kids, grands, etc!

    1. Cheryl Sullivan
      November 12, 2019 at 7:22 pm

      I did not find any of this helpful.

    2. Anonymous
      November 13, 2019 at 10:03 am

      I learned cell phone, texting, FB, taking pix & then texting them as friends & family pestered me to do as I had been resistant. Send them all “text letters” weekly & clip art decorated holiday greetings for all holidays. I learned all in my late 70s but not a whole lot of response & older friends refuse to learn texting. Tel calls – now wait for them to call, always too busy if I call. Am interested in sooo many things from politics, music, art, gossip….don’t understand why? Don’t accept that they don’t want to talk to “losers” or that they are “too busy” but I guess that is it, huh?

      1. Anonymous
        November 15, 2019 at 11:11 pm

        You can lead a horse to water but u can’t make em drink. So sad to be lonely do realize change is hard. God Bless!!👍🌹

        1. Dorleen Atchison
          November 24, 2019 at 3:18 pm

          My older friends won’t learn texting, sending photos etc. I just became semiretired and had to use texting etc. for my job. Actually prefer textover a phone call as you can share pics etc.
          plus…..if someone is too busy to reply right away…that makes it much better than a phone call.
          I text my sister and ask when a good time is to call here and often use video chat with her on FB messenger.
          Wish more seniors would use their brains a little more!

        2. Anonymous
          January 27, 2020 at 7:27 pm

          Whatever. I would like to be part of my son and his family’s life. I don’t get to see or hear fro my grandchildren. Do you realize how heartbreaking that is to a grandparent.

      2. Patsy Sayers
        November 24, 2019 at 11:37 pm

        I’m in my nineties … couldn’t live w/o my Facebook and email! Not to mention utube … every morning I get up … let the dog out … make my tea … then open up to grandchildren and other tech savies like myself for incoming humor … love … friendship and news.

        1. Anna
          December 29, 2019 at 11:31 am


  8. Anonymous
    October 31, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Not much help when you have family and husband that done not communicate with.

  9. E. A.
    November 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

    These ideas are nice…but when you have no family or friends…then what?

    1. marian tuck
      November 2, 2019 at 2:24 pm

      yes, mom has outlived all her friends and most of her relatives . . . the other siblings have no interest in “wa$ting” their time & money on a mom who “has an attitude”!? (when they do not understand the physiology of the situation). I try my best to spark her interest in SOMETHING . . . Surely with all our current technology someone could invent a SCAMMER-FREE phone 🙂 Mom has been $cammer free for 2 years (but she has lived without a phone / computer for those 2 years).

    2. Anonymous
      November 13, 2019 at 6:25 pm

      Join a group. Libraries frequently have program. Also community centers
      Garden clubs any subject of interest
      Usually has a group
      Affiliated with it .

    3. Anonymous
      January 20, 2020 at 11:58 pm

      Some time it does not matter if you have family, if they don,t communicate with you. Being lonely is the pits. If you are single and everyone else has a mate, they find you boring, and don,t have time for you.

      1. Josie Harvath
        January 26, 2020 at 1:16 am

        My husband passed five months ago and have never been this lonely, family lives in different state, all friends have passed. I have C O P D and on oxygen and do not drlve, My niece comes in three days a week to clean and take me shopping, it’s the nights and weekends that I get lonely and depressed, just would like someone to talk to that is in the same situation as me .

        1. Larry Yingling
          January 29, 2020 at 6:21 pm

          I understand your feelings of loneliness, the loss of parents and friends giving a sense of disconnect, and the feeling of not having someone that you can talk to and share your lives and experiences whether they be past or present. I think that eating at regular times, taking a nap if your tired, getting exercise, talking to friends just to say hello, taking care of your health, reaching out to connect and not giving up go a long way to combating loneliness.

  10. Sara
    November 3, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    Nice article glad to see that people still care about the older folk of which I have become
    Many of us are really not lonely, our longtime friends have passed and for me anyway I need to save my energy for my family and small circle of friends left , my dog and cats.
    Not interested in the get together and parties like in the past
    Enjoy reading , t v, social media and naps
    Love not having to go to work anymore
    As mine was a job not a profession, but tight money so can’t afford many social things, glad to be content at 75 in april

    1. Anna
      December 29, 2019 at 11:23 am

      Sara, Wanted to borrow your words with your permission.
      Nice article glad to see that people still care about the older folk of which I have become
      Many of us are really not lonely, I still have many long-time friends doing well. For me anyway, I need to save my energy for my family and a small circle of friends I have now.
      Not interested in the get-together and parties like in the past
      Enjoy reading, tv, social media and naps
      Love not having to go to work anymore
      Though my job was a profession, I hated the commute and politics. I miss the challenge and the satisfaction I got from my profession. Money is tight so can’t afford many social things, glad to be content at 78 in Sept.
      Trying to keep healthy in itself is time-consuming.
      Currently living in a CCRC Independent living, is involved in some committees and I have plenty of opportunities for volunteer work and cultural activities.

  11. Alberta
    November 3, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    So what do you do when your family seems not to care you are lonely and are too busy to call or text. I could call them if they answer but the one way contact hurts. We travel because of my husband’s work so can’t really get involved with others to the point of real friendships.

  12. Grace Riverw
    November 9, 2019 at 2:01 am

    I am well aware of the resources available to seniors in Florida. Big state with an over abundance of seniors looking and needing services. Sad but true resources are not available. Only to those who have $$$. The rest will never get help when needed. Funds are invested by our govt. to other priorities.

  13. Anonymous
    November 10, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Moved to florida, u will see lots of friends

    1. lynsb
      November 20, 2019 at 9:16 pm

      That is so true I loled. My marriage taught me what lonely can be. This, being autonomous, is not it.

  14. Brenda Caldwell
    November 13, 2019 at 2:23 am

    Would if I’m looking for an older person to call and visit in my area , I’m 61 and don’t have any older family here , would like to be there for an older person ,Columbus Ohio ,Brenda Caldwell

    1. Joy
      November 22, 2019 at 6:31 pm

      Brenda, I live in Dublin and would enjoy a telephone friend. I’m 77 and not particularly lonely, but friends have died or drifted away. I have a great husband and children plus grands and greats, however, someone new might offer new thoughts and perspectives and laughter…..

  15. Caren Epstein
    November 13, 2019 at 4:15 am

    No family left. No friends in area. All alone except for my dog. Medical problems keep me housebound most of the time. I’m 69 and health no longer allows me to work. Very lonely. I read a lot. Watch some tv.

    1. Jeanette Brewer
      November 15, 2019 at 9:22 pm

      I am like you. No family and no friends who want to do anything interesting…or else couples. I was a third wheel so lost alot of friends when my hubby died in 2010. One of the commenters indicated she needed to save energy for family and dog, and not interested in social functions.
      Maybe I now understand why its so hard to find friends when retired!

  16. Linda Petersen
    November 17, 2019 at 12:12 am

    I like just being home with the TV on and my cell phone available. Don’t want “forced socialization”. Leave me alone. Just need groceries and trips to doctors. 4 adult children and 7 adult grandchildren and phone doesn’t ring except for scammers and oeopke I don’t know asking for money. Am I happy? Probably not but not necessarily lonely, either. Just leave
    me alone. I’m content

  17. Bill Howden
    November 18, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    I have received two “Obama” phones. The first one did not work right out of the box: it would not charge at all, but neither the cable or the power adapter was defective.
    After just over a year of trying to obtain a replacement, they finally gave me a 3-G) unit (Nov. of 2019).
    I can’t understand how to use it- it is an Android. I asked if there was a way to get even a refurbished I-Phone- (perhaps an I-6 or an i-7?) perhaps by my paying a fee. I was told “no”.
    I just can’t seem to get a usable cellphone.
    It takes all but $30 of my entire Social Security income to pay the monthly rent for the small room in which I live, and that doesn’t include food or utilities.
    My disabilities keep me bedbound for most of each week.
    I have no surviving Family, other than my Church, so I am so very Blessed to still have them in my life. Although it takes 45 minutes of driving each way (as long as there is no traffic), I am Thankful to have Low-Cost Gr8 ParaTransit Transportation that allows me to be with my Church Family on Sunday mornings.

  18. Lonnie cook
    November 19, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    I don’t have any hobbies and only a very few friends most of them do not live anywhere near. I don’t really have any interest I’ve always been the type of person that was led by other people. Now in retirement with not a lot to do, I wish I knew a way to get out and meet other people.

    1. Martha
      December 22, 2019 at 11:38 pm

      Is have always been a “follower” also. Now alone with out a leader I have to try hard to get out on my own. Look in the paper to see what is going on. But it is not so much fun as going with someone.

    2. Linda
      January 30, 2020 at 2:51 pm

      I can see myself in that same boat if my husband dies before I do. I’m thinking I’ll hopefully have activities that will get me out of the house and around people. I know it will be hard for me to make friends with those people tho.

  19. Anonymous
    November 20, 2019 at 8:05 am

    I find my Brattleboro senior center has saved the day.

  20. Dr.Sylvia Acevedo-Frey
    November 23, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    There is a connection between hearing and isolation. Make sure the elder person sees an Audiologist.

    1. Martha
      December 22, 2019 at 11:43 pm

      Good point!

  21. Shelby Morrison
    November 25, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Facebook helps me socially. I find groups who share my interests and people who enjoy sharing with me. I am 86.

  22. Paul Edward Park
    December 11, 2019 at 8:05 am

    My Mother died, 5 years ago. On the last day, of December 2014. I moved back, to the last of homes I was raised in, Oregon. From, Hawai’i.
    I’m a, “Momma’s boy.” Fortunately, I had lovely closure with her, before she left. However, she seemed to isolate herself, in the last couple of years. Just being plain ornery, at times. Dementia? I never questioned, her integrity. But when she asked my partner, to leave her house. I followed. What a lonely way, to go. Now, I am lonely for my Mother, @ 66 years of age, come January. I now have a heart, full of compassion. I have always enjoyed socializing with people, older than myself. Now, more than ever, I want to help others.
    Thank you for, the informative article. It touched, my heart,

  23. Anonymous
    December 16, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Many communities have Senior Centers, which are a wonderful way to connect with other older people. My husband and I started going to ours last summer and have made some new friends we treasure.

  24. Vicki Haberman
    January 11, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    I’m 71 but still look and feel 20 yrs younger. Due to a serious foot infection I moved to be near my son and dil 3 years ago. I’m perfectly healthy now. We live in the same house but I have my own little efficency apartment space. Sometimes we go weeks without seeing or talking. I don’t know a soul here and have no car. The only time I leave the house is to go to the doctor or to take my dog to the vet. I’d love to make a few good friends in my area. I live in Gainesville Tx.

  25. Anonymous
    January 27, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    Nothing beats being included in your family.

  26. Marie Hutchinson
    January 28, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    need phone calls from children.

  27. Rebecca MacLean
    January 28, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    I am almost 70 and can’t say that I’m lonely. I have a large circle of friends. My problem is that I am not anyone’s “have to”. I have no children and no siblings. My significant other has dementia. As I said, I have a large circle of friends to socialize with but most of them are up to their eyeballs in family obligations so for example I can’t see any of the agreeing to be my “in case of emergency please notify” I haven’t a clue what to put in that box. There is no one I know who would drop everything because I happened to be taken to the ER. Also no one does anything for my birthday Maybe a FB post or a card. As I said, most of my friends, between children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, in-laws, blended families, and such have so many birthdays, christenings, graduations, and anniversaries to worry about they are not going to do anything for a casual platonic friend. And the ones without obligations are always traveling. I don’t feel lonely but I do feel orphaned. When my significant other dies, for example, I will be all alone on Thanksgiving.

  28. Linda
    January 30, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    Does anyone know if Skype helps?

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