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Lonhala Magnair

Social Isolation

Addressing Social Isolation to Improve the Health of Older Adults

Social isolation and loneliness in older adults are substantial public health problems.

Interventions have been examined for their effect on reducing social isolation and loneliness; however, it is unclear which are effective at improving health outcomes and avoiding unnecessary healthcare utilization.

A review of recent literature evaluating the effectiveness of interventions that target social isolation and loneliness to improve health and/or healthcare utilization revealed key findings.

  • Physical activity interventions to reduce social isolation showed the most promise at improving the health of older adults; however, effects were inconsistent and short term. Three of the four interventions that found a positive effect on health or social isolation met more than once per week and involved a healthcare professional in the delivery of the intervention.
  • Among interventions that improved social isolation or health/healthcare utilization outcomes, there was no clear relationship between effects on social isolation and effects on health or healthcare utilization.
  • Looking across studies, several methodological issues were identified: lack of consistency on whether and how social isolation and/or loneliness are measured; follow-up not being long enough to see health benefits; and lack of measurement of healthcare utilization or potential harms.
  • Interventions that connect socially isolated older adults to health services are conceptually promising and need good quality studies.

For details, see Veazie, S. et al. (2019). Addressing social isolation to improve the health of older adults: A rapid review. (Prepared by Scientific Resource Center under Contract No. 290-2017-00003-C.) AHRQ Publication No. 19-EHC009-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Posted final reports are located on the Effective Health Care Program search page. doi: https://doi.org/10.23970/AHRQEPC-RAPIDISOLATION

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