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Study explores health impact of social isolation, loneliness

Mar. 12, 2020, 9:03 AM


by Paul Govern

For older adults, social isolation and loneliness are associated with greatly increased likelihood of early death, dementia and heart disease, according to a recent report by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), titled Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System.

Laurie Novak, PhD, MHSA

Laurie Novak, PhD, MHSA, assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics, served as one of 15 members of NAM’s Committee on the Health and Medical Dimensions of Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults.

“In conducting this consensus study and issuing our report, our committee found evidence that widespread social isolation and loneliness among older people are taking a considerable toll on the nation’s health, and that significant opportunities exist to address these problems through research, improvements in care delivery, technology infrastructure development and targeted education and training,” Novak said.

To frame the magnitude of this public health problem, the introduction to the report cites epidemiological findings, such as: 24% of community-dwelling Americans age 65 and older are socially isolated and 43% of those over 60 report feeling lonely; social isolation has been associated with 29% percent increased risk of all-cause mortality and 25% increased risk for cancer mortality; loneliness has been associated with 59% increased risk of functional decline and 45% increased risk of death.

The report includes recommendations aimed at developing more robust evidence, translating current research into health care practices, improving awareness, strengthening ongoing education and training and strengthening ties between the health care system and community-based networks and resources.

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