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Why staying socially engaged is so important

Why staying socially engaged is so important

We now know that loneliness, and being isolated from friends and family, can have about the same effect on how long you live as cigarette smoking and obesity. Social engagement seems to be important in promoting good mental health as you age; for example, people who are not lonely or isolated are less likely to have depression.

A project by Trinity College (Lawlor et al, 2014) looked at how home visits by volunteers could be used to support older adults who may experience loneliness. The study found that loneliness decreased in participants after one and three months. These quotes from participants and volunteers describe how the project had an impact on their lives:

Participant: “It changed my life in every way …. was something to look forward to every week which I hadn’t had before. Another day, I’d be sitting in my own looking at the four walls. When the volunteer came, I’d be busy, I’d have to get ready for her.”
Volunteer: “At first, she wouldn’t say much but then she’d start to tell you little things, only between herself and myself. It was lovely.”
But, the study also highlighted the difficulties that older people face such as mobility, bereavement and societal changes.
Volunteer: “They have a huge big flat screen television and their radio but they are lonely. They don’t have people coming to visit them. It’s not that they don’t want visitors but they live in a rural area, and you know the way society has gotten now, people don’t call in for visits anymore. They looked forward to my visits though.”

This study shows how being socially engaged with others can decrease loneliness, and can have benefits for both the volunteer and the participant.

  • What do you believe to be the biggest danger related to loneliness and isolation? Post your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Next, listen to some of Professor Lawlor’s strategies for combating social isolation and loneliness.

Brian Lawlor is Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin.

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