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Social Isolation Threatens Well-Being in Later Life, Says GSA Member in Senate Testimony

Speaking before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, social work professor Lenard W. Kaye, DSW, PhD, urged lawmakers to support programs that help older adults stay connected to their communities.

Kaye is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and serves as director of the University of Maine Center on Aging. Joining three other experts at a hearing titled "Aging Without Community: The Consequences of Isolation and Loneliness," he reported to the committee that social isolation is a silent killer—due to placing people at higher risk for a variety of poor health outcomes—and he warned that more Americans are living in isolation than ever before.

"The prevalence may be as high as 43% among community dwelling older adults," Kaye says. "And the risk is high as well for caregivers of older adults given that caregiving can be a very isolating experience."

Kaye's testimony also highlighted the state of current research in solving the problem of social isolation among older adults.

"Due to the various life events that can trigger social isolation, from death of a significant other, to loss of transportation to health decline, effective interventions will need to be diverse and they will need to be tailored to the personal circumstances of the isolated individual," he says.

Kaye added that there is still significant progress to be made in determining what works for helping to reduce social isolation. Lack of rigor in studies of interventions aimed at reducing loneliness can make it difficult to evaluate some of these strategies.

GSA Executive Director and CEO James Appleby, BSPharm, MPH, congratulated Kaye on his testimony and says the organization will be a committed partner with the Senate as it develops potential legislation.

"GSA and many of its members are actively working in this topic area to demonstrate evidence-based interventions that can be translated into sound policy and practice to improve the lives of people as they age," Appleby says.

Source: Gerontological Society of America

For more on later life isolation: Aging in Isolation — Causes and Impacts