Social isolation, generally defined as having few social network ties or infrequent social contact, is an important public health concern that affects many older adults. By age 85, 39% of older adults live alone, and socially isolated adults experience high rates of negative health outcomes, including premature mortality and a 5% increase in the risk of dementia.
In the LTC setting, social isolation is less well defined and rarely studied. By definition, LTC residents live in a facility with others so social isolation often refers to the loss of personal connection to family and friends outside the facility. In a study of 323 LTC residents with advanced dementia, 88% received outside visitors for at least 1 hour a week, but 12% never received any visitors during an 18-month period. Among the LTC residents who had no visitors, reports were higher of pain, pressure ulcers, and dyspnea compared with residents with regular weekly visitors.
In a study published in JAMA Network Open, the findings support that there is an increased risk of short-term 30-day mortality after admission to an LTC facility in socially isolated neighborhoods. Evidence-based solutions for keeping residents of LTC facilities socially engaged are outside the scope of this study, although the telehealth options developed during the pandemic may be a promising platform to keep family and friends connected. What are you and your team doing to keep your residents engaged even if outside visitation is limited? Maybe it is time to take a look at your resident population, identify those who get limited/no visitors, and direct volunteers to those residents. It could make a difference not only in their quality of life but also in their length of life! Stay well, stay informed, and stay tuned!