What does social connection consist of and who is at greatest risk of isolation?
Social connection considers the amount of relationships you have, the extent to which those relationships can be relied upon, and your satisfaction within them. (Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD & Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University).1 There are several risk factors that have shown to increase likelihood of developing social isolation or loneliness, including:
Being unmarried (single, divorced, widowed)
Lack of participation in social groups
Physical impairments (decreased ability to move, hearing loss, etc.)
I may be lonely, am I the only one?
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself “I’m socially isolated” or “I feel lonely at times”, know that you are not the only one. You do not simply have to live alone to be isolated. Social isolation relates more to the perceived satisfaction of social connectedness. In fact, more than one third of adults over age 45 report being lonely (Wilson & Moulton, 2010). This equates to over 42 million older adults who experience chronic loneliness. But this is just the beginning:
Over ¼ of the U.S. population, and 28% of older adults live alone.2
Over half of the adult population is unmarried and 20% have never married.2
40% of first marriages and 70% of remarriages end in divorce.3
30% of relationships are severely disconnected.4
Less 50% of adults participate in a local religious group.5
Less than 25% of adults participate in a social club, community group, sports league, or other local group.5
With the development of isolating technology and increasing numbers of people living alone, these numbers have been on the rise. What this means is that more people each year becoming at risk of becoming socially disconnected.
Why does staying socially connected matter?
We often think of social isolation affecting us emotionally, such as becoming depressed, but did you know it can also affect you physically? Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad conducted several studies on social disconnection and has found greater social connection to be associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death! She also found that social isolation, or loneliness / living alone, all have significant effects on risk of early mortality which exceed the risk associated with obesity! These high risks of mortality, are comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! The brain is affected by social disconnections as well, increasing risk of depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Lastly, there can also be physiological changes that occur with social disconnection, including changes in blood pressure, immune functioning, and inflammation, which increase one’s risk of early mortality.
How can I fix this?
Now that we have identified social isolation to be detrimental to both physical and mental health, leading to early mortality; how do we prevent this from occurring? The answer is simple! Let’s reduce the risk factors themselves! Easy ways to do this could be becoming more active in church, clubs, or recreational activities. We can do this through going out to support local athletic teams and spending time with friends and family versus spending our time inside with eyes fixed to the computer, TV, tablet, or phone. If a physical impairment is limiting you from the social interaction you need in your life then assistance from a Physical Therapist, a movement and wellness specialist, may be what you need to help you get moving better again. No matter how socially isolated you may be now, know two things…..
You are not the only one!
It is never too late to get socially connected and there are professionals to help you get there, just reach out.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article by Trey Jansen, SPT, ATC, CSCS (student physical therapist). You can read more about him here.
Holt-Lunstad J. (2017) The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors. Public Policy & Aging Report. 27(4):127-130. doi:10.1093/ppar/prx030.
Vespa, J., Lewis, J.M., & Kreider, R.M. (2013). America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012, Current Population Reports, P20-570, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2015/demo/families/cps- 2015.html (updated in 2015).
United States Census Bureau. (2011). Changing American house- holds. United States Census Bureau: Washington, DC.
Whisman, M.A., Beach, S.R., & Snyder, D.K. (2008). Is marital discord taxonic and can taxonic status be assessed reliably? Results from a national, representative sample of married cou- ples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(5),745–755. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.76.5.745
Pew Research Center. (2009). Social isolation and new technology: How the internet and mobile phones impact Americans’ social networks. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/11/04/ social-isolation-and-new-technology/.