About Social Isolation

Social isolation refers to having objectively few social relationships, social roles, group memberships, and infrequent social interaction. [1] Social isolation can lead to loneliness which is the subjective unpleasant or distressing feeling of a lack of connection to other people, along with a desire for more, or more satisfying, social relationships. [1] Social isolation and loneliness are distinct concepts but are often linked together.

Social isolation has become a public health concern due to its negative impacts on people’s health and wellbeing, especially when negative feelings such as loneliness occur. Older people in aged care are one of the most at risk populations when it comes to being socially isolated and lonely. [2] Social isolation and feelings of solitude are stressful events that can lead to generalised anxiety. [3] It can increase their risk of morbidity and mortality to a similar degree as smoking. [4] It results in poorer health (higher blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation) [5, 6], poorer health behaviours (smoking and physical inactivity), poorer quality of life and wellbeing, and mental health conditions such as depression. [7] However, there is some evidence showing that older people have high resilience levels which can have positive impacts leading to successful ageing. [8]

Social isolation in Australia

In Australia, around 1 in 5 (19%) older Australians are socially isolated, with the highest rates occurring in the largest urban regions and sparsely populated states and territories. [9] Life changes increase the risk of people in this age group being socially isolated. These changes include physical changes and increasing medical concerns, reaching the retirement stage, and family and friends in their circle getting sick and dying, leading to decreased social connections.

Social isolation in aged care

Social isolation is a major concern among the older population living in their homes and residential aged care or long-term facilities. Several factors contribute to social isolation issues in aged care, including being in a facility located far from families and friends, or one which has no interactions with the community beyond its walls. Within the care home, social isolation can result from a shortage of aged care staff or differences between the social characteristics or physical health profiles of residents living within the facility. Residential care homes may offer limited opportunities for social engagement, leading to difficulties in building new relationships, especially for those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. [3, 10]

  1. Badcock JC, Holt-Lunstad J, Garcia E, Bombaci P, Lim MH. Position statement: addressing social isolation and loneliness and the power of human connection. Global Initiative on Loneliness and Connection (GILC). 2022. [cited 2022 Jul 11]. Available from
  2. Gardiner C, Laud P, Heaton T, Gott M. What is the prevalence of loneliness amongst older people living in residential and nursing care homes? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Age Ageing. 2020;49(5):748-757. doi:10.1093/ageing/afaa049
  3. Hawkley LC, Cacioppo JT. Loneliness and pathways to disease. Brain Behav Immun. 2003;17 Suppl 1:S98-105.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's welfare 2017 [Internet]. Canberra, ACT: AIHW; 2017 [cited 2022 Jul 11]. Available from
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  6. Valtorta NK, Kanaan M, Gilbody S, Ronzi S, Hanratty B. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: Systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart. 2016;102(13):1009.
  7. Pate A. Social isolation: Its impact on the mental health and wellbeing of older Victorians: COTA Victoria Working Paper No. 1 [Internet]. Melbourne: Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia; 2014 [cited 2022 Jul 11]. Available from
  8. MacLeod S, Musich S, Hawkins K, Alsgaard K, Wicker E. The impact of resilience among older adults. Geriatr Nurs. 2016; 37(4):266-272.
  9. Beer A, Faulkner D, Law J, Lewin G, Tinker A, Buys L, et al. Regional variation in social isolation amongst older Australians. Regional Studies, Regional Science. 2016;3(1):170-84.
  10. Boamah SA, Weldrick R, Lee T-SJ, Taylor N, Abbott A. Social isolation among older adults in long-term care: A scoping review. J Aging Health. 2021;33(7-8):618-32.