Who is affected by loneliness and social isolation?

Javier Yanguas, Amaya Cilvetti and Cristina Segura, “la Caixa” Programme for Elderly People

Both the subjective dimension of loneliness (feeling alone) and exclusion from social relations (social isolation) are circumstances that affect numerous adult people and, especially, men aged over 65 years. Prevention and intervention are key for reducing its presence and avoiding its negative consequences, which go beyond the psychological sphere, also having social and public health implications.
Key points
  • 1
       The most visible face of loneliness is feeling that one does not have people to turn to or trust in case of need.
  • 2
       Isolation from the network of friends is greater than in the case of the family network. In other words, the family is more present than friends are and protects more from the risk of social isolation over the course of life.
  • 3
       Feelings of loneliness and risk of isolation alike growth with age and are more frequent among men and in people with a lower level of education.
How many people are affected by loneliness and the risk of social isolation?
How many people are affected by loneliness and the risk of social isolation?

Loneliness is a social and a public health problem of the first order. In addition to affecting people’s psychological wellbeing, its presence is associated with worse levels of health and a higher risk of mortality.

Analysing loneliness is not easy because it is a complex phenomenon. Firstly, it is necessary to different between loneliness (feeling alone) from the objective lack of social contacts (social isolation). The perception of loneliness can also refer to missing the company of others (emotional loneliness). And social isolation can refer to the network of friends or the family network.

Taking into account these differences, a study from “la Caixa’ shows that both the perception of loneliness (in its emotional dimension) and the risk of social isolation (lack of friends) affect one in every four people in our country (graph 1). If both aspects are combined, we see that 43.6% of participants in the study were found to be at risk of social isolation or felt lonely.

Loneliness does not affect all strata of the population equally. Both feelings of loneliness and social isolation growth with age, above all among retired elderly people, and are usually more frequent among men than among women. They are also phenomena with a greater presence among people with a lower level of education.

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