Interventions for Social Isolation

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the concept of social isolation and its impacts on a person's well-being, as well as some of the major types of interventions aimed at social isolation.

Our Social Nature

Humans are social creatures. We are not meant to exist in isolation for too long. And if you are like most people, then what can you say about being alone for too long? Well, you probably get sad, lonely, and maybe even depressed. It's definitely not very fun for the vast majority of people.

Social isolation not only can lead to mental health problems, it can lead to physical health problems. This is why interventions designed to reduce social intervention are so important, and that's what this lesson is about.

What Is Social Isolation?

Social isolation is a term that describes an inadequate amount of social contact and social support. People experiencing social isolation have few to no social contacts or fulfilling relationships, little to no engagement with others, and lack a sense of belonging within the community. The elderly, the disabled, people with chronic health conditions, and those who have lost a loved one are at high risk for social isolation.

On a superficial level, it would seem that all this really means is that socially isolated individuals are simply lonely. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Social isolation is a lot more than loneliness, and it is more than a social problem. It's also a physical health problem. Social isolation can lead to:

  • Mental health problems, like depression;
  • Dementia;
  • An increased number of falls and consequences thereof, like fractures; and
  • An increased likelihood of re-hospitalization.

Interventions

Now that you've got a basic working knowledge of social isolation, let's refocus our attention on what we can do about it. That is to say, what interventions can be put into place to avoid or minimize such problems?

Firstly, there is limited concrete evidence regarding interventions for social isolation and their effectiveness, and more research is needed. Since this problem is especially prevalent among the elderly (although it can affect people of all ages), much of the current research focuses on interventions aimed at helping older people. Some of of the promising things that have come to light, as well as other interventions which turned out to be less promising, will be discussed here.

Promising Interventions

Let's say that Bob is a retired Army veteran with a disability. He lives alone in a home on the outskirts of Atlanta. So on top of being in a high risk group for social isolation (elderly age), he's also got limited mobility, which further increases his risk for social isolation. How can we help Bob? Well, group activities may help. Bob can engage in the activities like taking an art class, or reading books to children in schools, to help avoid or minimize his social isolation.

Bob isn't the only person who is socially isolated. There's Janet. She recently lost her husband of 30 years. On top of that she suffers from diabetes, a chronic health condition. Chronic health conditions and bereavement are two other types of risk factors for social isolation. Again, group activities can help Janet. Perhaps she can engage in group exercise sessions, or find a local meetup that revolves around a favorite hobby.

Finally, there's Robert. Robert lives in a senior center. Believe it or not, despite living in a community full of people his age, seniors in such communities can and do suffer from social isolation. To help mitigate this problem the community he lives in can offer regular (at least weekly) meetings between community members, educational group activities such as classes and workshops, and social activities, like group dining.

Based on current literature, it seems that group activities and meetings are the best way to intervene in social isolation.

Non-Promising Interventions

Other interventions have not had clear, significant positive effects, although more research is needed. Less effective interventions include those which take place on a one-on-one basis, like individual counseling or home visits to the elderly or disabled. While such methods seem to improve a person's well-being, they do not seem to increase the socially isolated person's social network or support system. Therefore, these may not be the most effective interventions for social isolation.

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