Social isolation affects older adults and people of all ages. For older adults facing isolation, NYSOFA has a 50-year track record of services, supports, and interventions, including many nation-leading program innovations.
In May 2023, the United States Surgeon General reported on the alarming health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country. Loneliness and isolation increase the risk for individuals to develop mental health challenges in their lives. Lacking connection can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily.
In November 2023, Governor Kathy Hochul made an historic announcement appointing Dr. Ruth Westheimer as the nation’s first Ambassador to Loneliness, further elevating this important issue in New York State.
What is Loneliness?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), loneliness is feeling alone or disconnected from others. It is feeling like you do not have meaningful or close relationships or a sense of belonging. It reflects the difference between a person’s actual and desired level of connection. This means that even a person with a lot of friends can feel lonely.
What is Social Isolation?
The CDC describes social isolation as the lack of relationships with others and little to no social support or contact. It is associated with risk even if people don’t feel lonely.
Health Effects of Social Isolation
The Surgeon General’s report states the effects of poor or insufficient connection include a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults. Additionally, lacking social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60%.
Costs of Social Isolation
The CDC estimates that loneliness costs the U.S. economy an estimated $406 billion a year, in addition to the estimated $6.7 billion a year in Medicare costs for socially isolated older adults.
NYSOFA’s Role: Services, Supports and Innovations
NYSOFA’s aging services network provides 20+ core services and supports annually to 1.3 million older adults. Many of these long-established programs and services are aimed at combatting social isolation. They include: senior center programming, social adult day care, home-delivered meals and congregate meals, volunteer opportunities, friendly visiting or friendly calls programs, and in-home supports. Contact your local office for the aging to learn more.
NYSOFA has also developed several program innovations to address social isolation in the digital age:
- NYSOFA’s animatronic pet project has provided 33,000 companion robotic pets to older adults throughout New York State. Learn more.
- Free online classes for older adults: NYSOFA’s partnership with GetSetUp has connected nearly 200,000 older adults to free online courses and communities that help them learn new skills and interact with others who share their interests. Explore free online classes here.
- ElliQ proactive AI care companion: NYSOFA is working with Intuition Robotics to test the efficacy of AI companion technology for older adults – known as ElliQ – and have just released a report showing a 95% reduction in loneliness and high levels of engagement for older adult users of the technology. Learn more.
Other NYSOFA Initiatives
- In 2022, NYSOFA joined approximately 20 community partners for All The Lonely People: Film Screenings and Community Conversations about social isolation at locations across New York. Learn more about the film.
- In the fall of 2023, NYSOFA worked with over 130 aging services partners to host local game events that encourage intergenerational play as part of a national Reach Out and Play initiative. Read our press release and watch one of these events in action.
Social Isolation and Disparities
According to the CDC, current research suggests that immigrant, and lesbian, gay, bisexual populations experience loneliness more often than other groups. Latino immigrants, for example, “have fewer social ties and lower levels of social integration than U.S.-born Latinos.” First-generation immigrants experience stressors that can increase their social isolation, such as language barriers, differences in community, family dynamics, and new relationships that lack depth or history, the report states. Similarly, gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations tend to have more loneliness than their heterosexual peers because of stigma, discrimination, and barriers to care.
Additional Resources For Isolation and Loneliness