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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28 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: https://www.greatcall.com/coverage

  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

  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!!👍🌹

  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 .

  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

  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

  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

  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.

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