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Consequences of social isolation can be dangerous, particularly for individuals already predisposed to health problems. Studies have demonstrated that seniors who are socially isolated seniors are less likely to take advantage of health and social services
Social isolation refers to a complete or near-complete lack of contact with society. It is usually involuntary, making it distinct from isolating tendencies or actions taken by an individual who is seeking to distance himself from society.
Human beings, by nature, are social creatures. Throughout the socialization process, we become accustomed to living in groups and interacting with others. Individuals in every society, however, at times must cope with social isolation, which is defined as a complete or near-complete lack of contact with others in society. Social isolation is usually involuntary, making it distinct from the isolating tendencies some individuals may have that lead them to purposefully distance themselves from others.
Social isolation is also distinct from loneliness. Loneliness is a subjective experience associated with a temporary lack of contact with other humans. Social isolation, by contrast, can be objectively measured in terms of a person's social contacts and relationships.
Any individual from any segment of society may be socially isolated, but senior citizens are especially susceptible to the risk factors that may trigger social isolation. These include living alone, family violence, loss of a spouse, aging-related cognitive impairments and disabilities, and transport issues. Consequences of social isolation can be dangerous, particularly for individuals already predisposed to health problems. Studies have demonstrated that seniors who are socially isolated seniors are less likely to take advantage of health and social services. This indicates a circularity of social isolation and health: individuals who are already marginalized are not pushed toward healthcare and individuals with quickly deteriorating health are more likely to be socially isolated. Extended social isolation can contribute tolate life depression, which is a major depressive episode occurring for the first time in an individual over sixty years of age.
Social isolation is a larger problem for elders now than in the past, due to the decreasing size of families in Western countries. In the past, elders were not at increased risk for social isolation because they would move in with their children. Now, many elders are moved into elder homes with less frequent contact with their children. However, many elder homes and retirement facilities are working to combat social isolation by increasing programming for their residents.