Family, friends, acquaintances, romantic partners, and more. Throughout our lives, we experience many types of relationships. Humans are “social animals” after all, as the Greek philosopher Aristotle once said. Looking at just some of the impacts of loneliness and social isolation on our health and well-being seemingly validates his claim. Think increased blood pressure, dementia, depression, and death (1-6). However, loneliness and social isolation do not have to become a staple of growing older or a part of our everyday lives. Strategies that can combat them do exist, as do specific features and characteristics of such strategies to watch out for.
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Research shows that several strategies can reduce loneliness and social isolation and increase social support in older adults. Successful strategies include animal therapy, cognitive–behavioural therapy or psychotherapy, social therapy, exercise, music therapy, and multi-component strategies, although their impact varies. Additionally, the effects of these strategies differ for older adults living in the community versus those living in long-term care settings. More research is needed to improve the quality of the current evidence base (7).
Research shows that group reminiscence therapy can improve social isolation and depression in nursing home residents. This strategy, which allows folks to share their personal stories and memories with others, is most valuable when executed by a well-trained program facilitator (8).
Research shows that several features and characteristics can increase the effectiveness of strategies that aim to reduce loneliness and/or social isolation in older adults. These include using a group-based format, having theory underpin the development of the strategy, incorporating feedback from participants, and targeting the strategy toward a specific group. Newer evidence suggests that for loneliness specifically, incorporating elements around changing negative thinking is optimal. More high-quality research is needed in this area (9).
If you are feeling lonely or experiencing social isolation, know that there are resources you can lean on. Reach out to your healthcare team to discuss what you are feeling and experiencing, as well as potential strategies that you can incorporate or referrals to supports within your community or long-term care setting that address your specific needs. Additionally, the Government of Canada provides links and phone numbers for national, provincial, and territorial mental health resources. These aid with accessing one-on-one counselling with a mental health professional, education, self-directed programming, peer support, and helplines. However, if you are in immediate crisis call 911.