Social isolation is commonly defined as a low quantity and quality of contact with others. A situation of social isolation involves few social contacts and few social roles, as well as the absence of mutually rewarding relationships.
Social isolation is different than loneliness. Social isolation increases the likelihood of loneliness, but a person can perceive being lonely even when in the company of others. Loneliness can be understood as an individual’s personal, subjective sense of lacking desired affection, closeness, and social interaction with others.
Research shows that social isolation is associated with poor mental and physical health, more disability from chronic diseases, greater risk of elder abuse and greater caregiver burden. Socially isolated older adults are also less able to participate in and contribute to their communities, resulting in a significant loss to organizations, communities and society at large.
The SIIP project is designed to reduce social isolation among older adults living with dementia, as well as their care partners, who are also at risk of social isolation as a result of their caregiving role. Within this group, dementia intersects with issues of language, gender and cultural identity that must also be considered as potential barriers to social inclusion.
Social inclusion means that people:
- Experience a sense of belonging
- Are accepted (for who they are) within their communities
- Have valued roles in the community
- Are actively participating in the community
- Are involved in activities based on their personal preferences
- Have social relationships with others whom they chose, and with whom they share common interests
- Have friends
When people experience some or all of these conditions in their life, they are more likely to be happier and healthier. In fact, social inclusion is an important “determinant of health” – without inclusion, people are more likely to experience poor health (including poor mental health), loneliness, isolation, and poor self-esteem (New Brunswick Association for Community Living).
The health benefits of working upstream to promote social inclusion for older adults are well documented. Social connections and improved quality of life may even prevent or delay the onset or progression of dementia (Fratiglioni, 2000).