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Social isolation in the elderly - Tips to support your loved ones

Social isolation can be a real issue, especially if living alone. We look at tips for families and friends.

March 07, 2023

Family carer with elderly relative

Social isolation and loneliness can have an adverse effect on anyone. However, older adults are at a higher risk as they lose family and friends with age.

Studies show 38% of older people aged 75 to 84 and over half (59%) of those aged 85 and over live alone.1 

The risk of feeling socially isolated and lonely increased after the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing disconnected millions of people from their families and friends, significantly affecting the elderly. 

Many people think social isolation and loneliness are the same but a thin line differentiates these. Loneliness can be defined as feeling alone, irrespective of the number of social connections.

On the other hand, social isolation describes a lack of social interactions. For example, older adults are considered socially isolated if they live alone, rarely interact socially, have no family or friends to contact, or are alone for more than 9 hours each day. Older people can also feel isolated after the death of a spouse or friend, retirement from work, or physical or mental health complications. 

This article looks at the causes and negative effects of social isolation in the elderly and how you can help your loved ones if they feel socially isolated. 

Download the Staying Connected guide

Our Staying Connected guide will help you understand the symptoms of loneliness and address the causes. The guide provides information, resources and advice to help your loved one overcome loneliness, build meaningful connections and be their best in later life.

Download free guide

Causes of social isolation in elderly

Social isolation among the elderly is a considerable concern for families, and different studies have sought to understand the causes of social isolation in older adults.

Some of the reasons behind social isolation in the elderly are:

  • Personal or professional changes like retirement or the death of a spouse or other loved ones. This can shrink older adults' social circle, leading to social isolation.
  • Physical or mobility impairments can decrease an older adult's capability for social interaction. For example, they might feel ashamed, or the fear of falling might make them lose confidence and therefore leave the relative safety of their homes less frequently.
  • Older adults with mental health disorders like anxiety or depression are more likely to isolate themselves and feel lonely socially. They tend to disengage from social activities due to poor memory and language barriers. 
  • Being a caregiver can also put people at risk of social isolation. Caring for a loved one with mental or physical impairment can often cause caregivers to give up their hobbies or social life. 
  • Living in a rural area can have transportation challenges for the elderly. They may give up driving and find public transport difficult to manage or infrequent, contributing to social isolation and negatively impacting their lives.


Negative effects of social isolation

Social isolation and loneliness have a detrimental impact on the health of the elderly. Negative effects of social isolation include:

Mental health decline

Studies indicate loneliness and isolation can be as damaging as alcohol addiction or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Moreover, it can grow the risk of dementia by 64% in the elderly.

Cognitive decline

Spending time with people is one of the most helpful ways to control or lower cognitive decline. A good conversation with loved ones challenges your language reception, memory and other critical cognitive skills.

Increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease

Studies have also shown a connection between loneliness and cardiovascular diseases. Weak social links increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and strokes by 29% and 32% respectively, making social isolation and loneliness as dangerous as obesity, smoking, lack of physical movement and drug abuse. 

Older person with heart pain


Spotting the signs of social isolation in elderly

Recognising the signs and symptoms of loneliness is tricky. Loneliness is a social stigma so your elderly loved one might be reluctant to admit being lonely. If you suspect your elderly loved one is struggling with social isolation or loneliness, then these are the warning signs you should look out for:


Your elderly parents might constantly complain about feeling sluggish or having disruptive sleep patterns. Sometimes they might stay in bed as they feel socially isolated. Moreover, loneliness could lead to shorter and poorer sleep periods, irritation, or even insomnia. Home monitoring devices such as Taking Care Sense can help you identify changes in daily activity that may indicate issues such as these that should be investigated.

Increased internet surfing

Your older loved ones may use social media to connect with friends and family. However, if it's the only way to interact with people, it could signify social isolation and loneliness. Older adults may become part of online social communities or begin talking to strangers, which might sometimes lead them to get caught in online scams.


Your elderly loved one might feel neglected, misunderstood, unheard, and left out of decisions, making them feel lonely and depressed. These feelings emerge as anger, which may not always lead to arguments or yelling. Instead, a loved one can become quiet and negative and cut themselves from communication when annoyed.

Change in appetite

Lack of appetite is often expected as we age, but if your elderly loved one becomes uninterested in food, it could indicate loneliness. Overeating can also show loneliness and an emptiness can be mistaken for hunger.

Increased shopping habits

Have your elderly parents begun spending much of their time buying unnecessary things? Unfortunately, many people who feel lonely tend to purchase more, and they often spend on things that aren't needed. Increased shopping habits can indicate that your loved one is feeling socially isolated.


Older couple smiling

How you can help combat social isolation

The most important part of helping a loved one struggling with social isolation or loneliness is to be there for them and encourage and support them by listening to their concerns.

When older adults feel socially isolated or lonely, they might often feel misunderstood, leading to irritation and anger, so it's crucial to be patient with them. You can also follow a few tips put together by us:

Social activities

Older adults who feel isolated might feel low and not confident enough to leave the house. However, finding new activities to join or volunteering for a cause they believe in can add purpose to their life. For example, joining a book club or church group can help the elderly to meet new people, learn new activities, and be part of something meaningful.


Taking up a new hobby

Encouraging your older relatives to take up hobbies they have always been interested in, but could never make time for, can help them boost their mental and physical health. There are many group activities, such as painting, creative writing, community choir or theatre, which can help improve confidence and make the experience more pleasurable.   

Local befriending schemes

Several charities and organisations can link you with people to speak to when you feel isolated. For example, befriending services can be used for a quick interaction or for someone inspecting in to see if you require medications or food. In addition, you can organise one-off appointments or more frequent discussions. Some options are NHS volunteer responders and Age UK's telephone friendship service

Personal alarms

Getting a personal alarm can provide peace of mind to you and your loved one. For example, if your elderly relative has a fall or any other emergency, they can call for help with a single push of a button alerting the 24/7 available response team. 

At TakingCare, we have various personal alarms with multiple features and functions, so your loved one can choose the one most suited to their circumstances. 

  • personal fall alarm will automatically detect if your relative has a fall in the home or garden and raise an alert.
  • GPS personal alarm is convenient if they spend lots of time out and about - it works anywhere and can give the response team your loved one's GPS location if needed.
  • A monitored personal alarm means there is always someone to reach out to, day or night if your loved one needs help or reassurance.

Have a look at the full range of TakingCare personal alarms.

You or your loved one don't have to endure the burden of feeling socially isolated alone. There is support available to help you or your loved one cope with the negative effects of social isolation. 

Download the Staying Connected guide

Our Staying Connected guide will help you understand the symptoms of loneliness and address the causes. The guide provides information, resources and advice to help your loved one overcome loneliness, build meaningful connections and be their best in later life.

Download free guide

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

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