A Profile of Social Connectedness in Older Adults
Loneliness has been associated with increased mortality and a range of adverse health outcomes that are both prevalent and costly in older age.
Loneliness, however, is often a hidden problem. It has few clear outward indicators, some degree of stigma attached, and no proven solutions beyond conventional wisdom about trying to make friends and find meaningful pursuits and activities.
This report, developed with AARP Foundation support, examines the best existing data to estimate frequency of loneliness among older adults in the U.S., as well as to identify both the characteristics of lonely older adults and the segments of the older adult population who are at high risk for loneliness.
It is important to note that loneliness and isolation, although closely related, are not the same thing. We can’t confuse social isolation — an objective lack of social networks and access to information and resources — with the subjective condition of loneliness. Both are critical and require our sustained attention. The scope of this report is specific to loneliness in adults age 62–91.
Loneliness and isolation in older adults are fairly new research topics. What data there is indicates that these conditions lead to dramatic decreases in physical health, mental well-being and overall quality of life. More research is needed to fully address this growing — and often invisible — public health threat.
It is crucial that we identify who is at risk or already suffering in order to develop effective strategies that meet older adults’ need for social connection. Any new research should include examining the incidence and effects of loneliness and social isolation on groups that are often marginalized.
Through research and ongoing collaboration, AARP Foundation is working to create a deeper understanding of loneliness and isolation, draw much-needed attention to these issues and catalyze action.