Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health have concluded that social isolation (which significantly impacted older individuals, caregivers, and people living with disabilities during the pandemic) increases the risk of developing dementia. Although the same researchers did not establish a causal link between dementia and social isolation, social isolation was identified as a risk factor. This study further found that the “simple efforts to increase social support of older adults — such as texting and use of email — may reduce that risk.”
So, what is social isolation and how do we combat it? According to the CDC, “Social isolation is a lack of social connections.” Social isolation is not the same as being lonely. Unfortunately, the older we get, the more likely our social connections decrease or diminish. This can be because we outlive our friends, family and others in our social groups or it could be due to illness, disability, or caregiving responsibilities.
There are many suggestions online to combat social isolation. One is for older individuals to use technology to stay connected: to text, call or video chat with loved ones. Other suggestions are to join a club or group—like an exercise group or social group at a senior center or community center—to adopt a pet, to volunteer, to take up a new or old hobby.
The federal public health emergency is scheduled to end May 11, 2023. As we hopefully put the pandemic behind us, I encourage everyone to reconnect to reduce the risk of social isolation.