Social Isolation

Background

Social isolation is the real lack of meaningful contact with others. It is a significant risk factor for health conditions like heart disease, infections, depression, and premature cognitive decline. It is also linked to a higher risk for premature death. Older adults may be especially at risk for social isolation because they are more likely to have experiences that diminish their social contacts. These can include the death of a spouse or friends and the onset of health problems that impede their ability to socialize. Not only is social isolation bad for health, but it is also costly. Recent research associates social isolation among community-dwelling fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older with $6.5 billion per year in extra Medicare spending. That is comparable to additional program spending for people with arthritis or high blood pressure.

 

SOCIAL ISOLATION: Policy

SOCIAL ISOLATION: Policy

Social isolation as a public health issue

Public health officials and policymakers should recognize social isolation as an important public health issue and social determinant of health. They should develop evidence-based strategies to identify, address, and track the problem on a population level.

Screening tools and interventions

Policymakers and the private sector should develop a standardized screening tool to identify individuals experiencing social isolation and develop effective interventions. Both the tool and the interventions should be evidence-based.

Social isolation assessment and interventions

Medicare, Medicaid, and other payers should reimburse providers for the use of a standardized tool, including during “Welcome to Medicare” and Annual Wellness visits. Payers should also cover evidence-based interventions.

Social isolation in crisis

During times of crisis, state and local governments and the private sector should use evidence-based tools to identify, monitor, and address social isolation among older adults.