The Hidden Costs of Loneliness and Social Isolation & What Health Plans Can Do About It

Looking for a friend

It turns out that social isolation and loneliness are more harmful to a person’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social support is also a greater factor in an individual’s overall health and wellbeing than obesity, high blood pressure, alcoholism, and high cholesterol.

Research suggests that patients with social support may heal and recover faster. Yet, many people lack the human support they need, particularly within hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Luckily, there is a solution and that’s what SitByCare comes in. But first, it’s important to understand the role loneliness and social isolation play in human health. What’s the difference between the two? Who is at risk? Who is it costing and how much, exactly? Once these questions are answered, it’ll be a lot easier to understand why a solution is desperately needed.

What Is The Difference Between Loneliness and Social Isolation?

Loneliness refers to the feeling of being alone or separated. Social isolation is the lack of social connections or having few people to interact with regularly. While loneliness can be a result of social isolation, people can feel lonely even while being with other people.

While loneliness and social isolation are different, they are related and both can put an individual’s health at risk.

What Loneliness and Social Isolation Can Do To Our Health

According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), over a third of individuals 45 and older feel lonely, and almost one quarter of adults 65 and older are socially isolated. These numbers have likely increased due to the need for physical distancing during the coronavirus outbreak in 2020.

But what do these statistics mean for human health?

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, published research which showed people with strong social relationships had 50% greater likelihood of survival than their counterparts with weaker ones.

Being disconnected to others has been shown to be more dangerous than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It also can predict early death more than being physically inactive and being exposed to bad air pollution. The truth is, humans need eachother to survive; regardless of sex, nationality, culture, age or economic background. Social connection is critical to human health and survival.

An Even Greater Risk for Older Adults

lonely man

While social isolation and loneliness can put anyone’s health at risk, the danger is much greater for adults 45 and older. Research shows that people 65 and older who are socially isolated or lonely are more likely to go to the emergency room or a nursing home. They are also at a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, lowered immune function, depression, dementia, and even death.

People who are lonely experience emotional pain. This type of pain activates the same bodily stress response as physical pain. In the long run, this can lead to chronic inflammation and lowered immune function, making them more vulnerable to infection and disease.

Loneliness Costs the US Billions of Dollars a Year

According to a 2017 study performed by the AARP Public Policy Institute and Stanford University, a lack of social connection among older adults is associated with an additional $6.7 billion in Medicare spending each year.

It’s increasingly clear that loneliness and social isolation are taking a toll on Americans’ health. This is a sad reality, and it’s also costing healthcare providers and payers more money each year. A collaboration between health plans, healthcare providers, and companies that can help reduce the burden of social isolation will be key in resolving this costly public health issue.

How SitByCare Helps Payers & Providers Solve The Challenge of Loneliness and Isolation in Hospitals

happy patient with friendMany people lack the social support they need, particularly within hospitals and long-term care facilities where its impact is undeniable (and costly). Oftentimes, patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities are left isolated, as their only social interaction occurs with medical care providers. Lucky patients have family and friends that can visit. But, more often than not, family members live far away and friends aren’t always available to provide their support in person.

Luckily, SitByCare has developed a solution to bridge this gap. SitByCare is a health sitting platform that matches patients and companion seekers with health sitters in their community. This revolutionary platform is gaining traction from health providers and health plans as more research reveals how social support improves recovery speed and overall health and well-being. Learn more about partnering with SitByCare today.

Reference

“Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions (“Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions”).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Apr. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html#:~:text=Loneliness%20was%20associated%20with%20higher,risk%20of%20emergency%20department%20visits.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

“Loneliness and Social Isolation – Tips for Staying Connected.” National Institute on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/loneliness-and-social-isolation-tips-staying-connected#difference.

Medicare Spends More on Socially Isolated Older … – Aarp.org. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2017/10/medicare-spends-more-on-socially-isolated-older-adults.pdf?mod=article_inline.

Anderson, Jenny. “Loneliness Is Bad for Our Health. Now Governments around the World Are Finally Tackling It.” Quartz, Quartz, https://qz.com/1413576/loneliness-is-bad-for-our-health-now-governments-around-the-world-are-finally-tackling-the-problem/.

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