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Social Isolation

Elders who are socially isolated tend to be disengaged from others. Even if they interact with people, their interactions are usually superficial and they seldom build deep relationships. Some elders are more prone to social isolation due to limitations in physical, psychological, family, environmental, and financial conditions. Prolonged social isolation not only affects social life, but also increases the risk of physical and psychological problems. However, if we all take a step forward and start building bridges with one another, social isolation can be overcome.

Risk factors for social isolation

1. Physical factors

Chronic pain (e.g. osteoarthritis of the knees), chronic illnesses (e.g. Parkinson’s Disease), functional decline (e.g. incontinence, visual or hearing impairment), changes in appearance (e.g. paralysis after stroke), and other physical problems not only reduce elders’ capability to go outside, but also impede their motivation to interact with others due to low self-esteem.

2. Psychological factors

Past hardships (e.g. social rejection) may result in low self-esteem or generate a lack of trust in others. Other elders may feel despised or abandoned and thus avoid social contact or even show hostility towards others. Introverts and people lacking social skills are also more likely to have problems with social interactions. Chronic emotional disturbances or in grief, either due to loss of a loved one or abandonment, may trigger or exacerbate isolation.

3. Family factors

Elders may refuse all social activities for the sake of taking care of family. Some may limit their social interactions because of their partners’ disapproval of out-of-home activities. For others, they may want to avoid talking about family issues (e.g. family member’s indebtedness, unemployment, sickness, etc.) and thus refrain from social contact.

4. Environmental factors

Elders may avoid leaving home if they live in areas with limited public transport or in buildings with no elevators. Those who just relocated to a new neighbourhood may not be familiar with the community facilities nearby and lack motivation to meet new friends or contact old neighbours.

5. Financial factors

Some elders have reduced income after retirement; while others only depend on own savings or social security for a living. To save money, they may reduce expenses on activities including recreation, entertainment, and social gatherings.

Negative effects of social isolation

Physically: More likely to have an imbalanced diet and unhealthy lifestyle, more physical illnesses, and a shorter lifespan.
Socially: Indifference or even hostile attitudes will drive people away, thereby further reducing social contacts and exacerbating the situation of social isolation.
Psychologically: More difficulties in handling daily hassles due to poor social support network, leading to a greater sense of helplessness and a higher chance of developing mood disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety).

How to prevent and overcome social isolation

  • Develop hobbies and learn something new
  • Maintain social connection with old or new friends by joining activities at social centres
  • Take the initiative in making contact with family and friends
  • Seek help from others when in need
  • Keep in touch with family and friends even when in grief
  • Learn social skills
  • Appreciate others more and criticize less
  • Maintain connection with others using new technology (e.g. smart phone and computer)

Preferring to stay at home rather than meeting people, feeling fearful or even hostile towards others are some warning signs of social isolation. Recognising its detrimental effects, you can try to take a step forward by:

  • Increasing the frequency and duration of time spent outside home gradually
  • Exploring new places around
  • Taking the opportunity to interact with others when shopping
  • Smiling and greeting your neighbours
  • Engaging in casual conversation with neighbours upon initial greetings

How to help elders who are socially isolated

It is vital for us to offer help to elders who are socially isolated. After all, we are part of society, not to mention that helping others is the foundation of happiness!

Practical Support

  • Make regular phone calls to check on their well-being. Understand their needs and offer help when necessary. If still no answer after a few calls, pay a visit to them or seek others’ assistance
  • Show extra care by making more frequent phone calls in times of weather changes
  • Take the initiative in socialising with new neighbours. Introduce community facilities and events in the neighbourhood. Invite them to go out for physical exercise, tea, or other activities at social centres
  • Help with buying daily necessities or food
  • Accompany them to attend medical appointments
  • Help with simple household maintenance and repair
  • Help with searching for community resources
 

Emotional Support

  • Initiate chat with them. Share daily life as well as worries and difficulties
  • Offer support by lending an ear and letting them express their feelings. Encourage them to see things from a different perspective when appropriate
  • Our care and company are especially important to people in grief
  • Pay visits or make phone calls to the elders during major festivals to let them know that they are not alone
 

Conclusion

Starting from today, let’s rebuild the bridges among people, reconnect with others, and help those in need!