by Claire Irwin, Age Well Live Well Coordinator
Social connection is an important part of healthy aging, and having a close group of friends, family, neighbors or co-workers helps to create a sense of belonging.
There are resources, support and programs available for people who are isolated or feel lonely. Understanding the difference between social isolation and loneliness is a good first step.
A number of studies define social isolation as the lack of social connections and loneliness as the feeling of being isolated or alone. A person could feel lonely but still have social connections, and a person who is social isolated may not feel lonely.
According to "Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review," a persistent feeling of loneliness can affect a person’s physical and mental health, and social isolation is associated with an increased risk for mortality. A growing body of research shows that persistent loneliness is associated with dementia. One study found that for every one-point increase they saw in the loneliness measure used, there was a 40% increased risk of dementia.
While concerning, there is research that suggests that connection and social support can help. In fact, one study found that social support in the form of supportive listening is associated with greater cognitive resilience.
Loneliness can affect anyone. Researchers at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that a significant number of older adults experience loneliness. The good news is that community involvement and connections can help reduce many of the effects of loneliness.
The pandemic amplified the importance of staying socially connected for mental and physical health benefits. Texas communities and organizations created or enhanced programming to reach out to residents who were isolated and at risk for loneliness. Texas Health and Human Services launched the Know Your Neighbor campaign to encourage Texans to form and maintain new connections with older neighbors to help reduce the risks of isolation and loneliness. The campaign provides resources, including template emails and letters and more, to make creating connections easier.
You can help create connections and foster a strong community by getting involved. For more information on the campaign, visit the Age Well Live Well webpage.