More than 8 million people over the age of 50 in the United States are socially isolated.
Social isolation occurs when someone no longer has the traditional support of a network of friends, family, and community. These seniors often describe themselves as invisible to society, especially when cloistered in apartments or rural areas.
A collection of research published in the new issue of the Public Policy and Aging Report presented by the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) reveals how social isolation poses a major health risk and outlines several promising new innovations to combat this problem.
According to the new research, social isolation can be as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Social isolation has been linked to higher blood pressure, an increased susceptibility to flu, a greater likelihood of cardiovascular disease, and an earlier onset of dementia.
“As we age, social connections can be an important contributor to our well-being,” said James Appleby, an executive director and CEO of the GSA. “Now through our Public Policy & Aging Report, I am proud that GSA is adding momentum to research in this topic area — ultimately leading to new evidence-based insights that can be translated into sound policy and practice.”
Appleby and the GSA offer some innovative new plans for dealing with the problem of social isolation, some of which are already currently underway.
One of the new ventures discussed in the report is a collaboration with the USC Center for Body Computing that will provide free Lyft rides to appointments in order to study whether or not this improves health and well-being in older adults.
Another proposed plan is testing out interactive devices with built-in speech-recognition that would give reminders of community information.
These studies and ventures are not just innovative, but according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the authors in the new issue, they are also a vital part of helping seniors live longer, more fulfilling lives.