Top Strategies for Combating Social Isolation in Seniors

It may be more common to associate loneliness or social isolation with poor mental health, but research shows that these can also have real impacts on the physical health and well-being of seniors.

Social isolation has been linked to an increase in death, dementia (1) and risk of elder abuse (2); while loneliness has been linked to an increase in blood pressure (3) and susceptibility to infection (4), as well as cognitive decline (5).

There is no doubt that with ageing comes certain situations (health conditions, barriers to transportation, deaths of loved ones) that result in older adults spending more time alone. An increase in time spent alone isn’t a negative thing.

However, older adults lacking social support and meaningful contact, or struggling to cope with negative feelings from their belief that they lack either of these things can become problematic if unaddressed.

Whether you are concerned about a loved one or you’re seeking to provide support and community to seniors, here are some strategies for combating social isolation and loneliness.

Find a Furry Friend

Some older adults just simply aren’t a big fan of socializing with other people and that’s okay. When you’re dealing with someone who isn’t a people-person, you have to think outside the box when it comes to meaningful contact. Animals are a great option in this case.

If an individual isn’t capable of owning a therapy pet, then try to regularly schedule animal therapy time for that person. Holding, petting, talking to, grooming and playing with an animal can provide the same health benefits and social support that one can get from connecting with a human.


Reminiscence therapy is generally when a topic is picked and participants narrate their memories or life stories associated with that topic. Music, photos and art are often incorporated into reminiscence therapy. This sort of activity is typically done in a group setting, but it can be done one-on-one as well.

Reminiscence therapy allows individuals to access those happy pockets of memory that provide positive emotional feedback, ultimately improving a person’s quality of life.

Promote a Sense of Purpose

Seniors who remain active in their hobbies and interests are less likely to deal with the negative effects of social isolation.

Things that may provide someone with a sense of purpose could be volunteering for a cause they care about, attending a faith-based service, taking care of an animal or garden, learning a new skill or being part of a group or club.

Teach Social Media Skills

For all its faults, there is one thing technology and the age of social media has done well and that is keeping us connected. Too connected, in fact. We are now hearing about people taking “digital detox”es.

That said, many older adults were never taught how to use digital devices to their fullest and many could benefit from being made aware of how they can connect with old friends and new. Twitter’s capped posts are loved by people living with dementia.

Someone could find a long-lost love or childhood friend on Facebook. The internet is full of support groups for various issues one could be facing. Grandparents can play Scrabble on their tablet with a grandchild that lives miles away. One could find a free online course in something their interested about. The options and possibilities are endless!

Tour Adult Day Care Centers

Most communities will have Adult Day Care Centers or Senior Centers of some kind where older adults can come and participate in group activities, learn new skills, socialize, take day trips, enjoy refreshments, or even access certain health services. 

Finding a community that feels right to an individual may take some time, so check out a few if more than one option is possible. Family caregivers benefit from communities like these. When their loved one spends time at a senior center, it gives the caregiver respite. This is incredibly important and allows them to continue having the mental wellbeing they need to care for their loved one.

Adult Day Care communities can benefit from adult day care software programs that are designed to enhance connection and engagement for their service users like this one:

Reach Out to Neighbors

Inform and introduce trusted, nearby neighbors to a socially isolated senior in their community. Neighbors can keep a friendly eye out in case anything seems wrong.

Additionally, caring neighbors may even go out of their way to do things like engage the individual in conversation, bring by food, invite them over for holidays, offer to help with yard work or take them to an appointment.

  • Fratiglioni L, Wang HX, Ericsson K, et al. Influence of social network on occurrence of dementia: A community-based longitudinal study. Lancet. 2000; 355:1315-1319
  • Government of Canada. Report on the social isolation of seniors, 2013-2014. [Internet] 2016. [cited October 2018]. Available from
  • Hawkley LC, Thisted RA, Masi CM. et al. Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: Five-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults. Psychology and Aging. 2010; 25:132-141.
  • Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Garner W, Speicher C., et al. Psychosocial modifiers of immunocompetence in medical students. Psychosom Med, 1984; 46:7-14.
  • Tilvis RS, Kahonen-Vare MH, Jolkkonen J, et al. Predictors of cognitive decline and mortality of aged people over a 10-year period. J Gerontol A Bio Sci Med Sci. 2004; 59:M268-M274.

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