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Countering the Effects of Loneliness and Social Isolation

We all know humans are social animals. We’re wired to love, to be part of a community, to form relationships, converse and interact.

But now scientists are discovering how important those things are to health. Simple human interactions that so many of us take for granted turn out to be foundational to good health and good health outcomes.

Understanding The Risks

Studies are showing that people who are lonely or socially isolated have a 50 percent higher risk of developing dementia. They have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. They end up in the hospital or emergency room more often. And they have a higher incidence of premature death.

Caregiver clients are at an especially high risk of feeling lonely and socially isolated, especially in our era of Covid-19, where “safety” sometimes means keeping visitors away. Clients also are more likely to be living alone. If they have family, the family members may live somewhere else. A person with a chronic illness or disability has a harder time getting out; if hearing is an issue, they can feel lonely even when in a group. And anyone who is elderly is more likely to have lost a spouse or close friend who once provided a meaningful connection.

How Caregivers Can Help

The question is, what can a caregiver do to help? There’s no formulaic answer, but here are a few things to consider:

  • Start by talking to your client. Everyone is different. Find out what his/her social needs and wishes are.
  • Is there a way to help the client reconnect a relationship? Maintain an existing relationship? Develop a new relationship?
  • Help facilitate meaningful phone calls.
  • Is there a group he/she could join where there’s a shared interest?
  • Is transportation a barrier? What local transportation resources are available?
  • Befriend your client yourself. Help him/her do projects or learn more about their special interests – again, start by asking them what they want to do. Some people like to play cards or Monopoly or work on a puzzle. Others would hate the thought.
  • Take your client for a walk, even if it’s just to the end of their driveway, where he/she might run into a neighbor or even someone making deliveries. Any personal interaction is helpful to someone who is feeling isolated and alone. It can make them feel as if they’re part of the world again.