Solutions to the problem of social isolation should draw from all conceptual levels – individual, social network, community/environment, and societal levels – in order to create an integrated framework for research, treatment, and prevention. We can only meet the needs of a widely diverse population when we respond to the foundational and multifactorial causes of this complex social problem. We must work to build a rich assortment of interventions that simultaneously:

  • Address the individualized needs of socially isolated older adults
  • Honor the life experiences, cultural values, and ethnic identities of these elders
  • Strengthen and expand social networks
  • Create age friendly environments
  • Effect social change, particularly by fighting to eliminate ageism and other contributing “isms” 

National leaders in the field of aging recommend a multipronged approach to combat social isolation. These recommendations encompass an ambitious research agenda, a host of treatment models, and a public health framework for prevention and early detection. The steps below can be taken in Alameda County.

The County can pursue research and support solutions by collaborating with public health, academic, and other partners, to:

  • Conduct comprehensive epidemiologic analyses of loneliness and social isolation
  • Establish shared and consistent definitions, interventions, and evaluation tools
  • Develop valid and reliable screening tools
  • Study interventional models with potential for population-wide expansion

Healthcare entities and the County can advance treatment solutions by taking the following steps: 

  • Establish standards of care for integrated multidisciplinary treatment 
  • Fund and implement a variety of interventions at all conceptual levels that treat the multifactorial causes of social isolation 
  • Train healthcare and social service providers to assess for loneliness and social isolation risk 
  • Expand access to culturally responsive programs and services particularly for at-risk older adults such as LGBTQ persons, recent immigrants, communities of color, women, and persons with limited English proficiency 
  • Promote individual choice and control

The County can take the lead on implementing prevention solutions by pursuing the following recommendations: 

  • Provide mental health supports, including counseling, medication, and case management 
  • Spearhead public health initiatives that address the social determinants of loneliness, isolation, and health inequities 
  • Encourage healthy lifestyles that incorporate physical and social activity 
  • Support functional capacity and healthy aging 
  • Introduce a public education campaign to inform people about social isolation, its causes and its health impacts 
  • Advocate for social change to address the underlying attitudinal and structural factors that promote loneliness and social isolation (multiple “isms”) 
  • Promote Age-Friendly cities and communities 
  • Ensure urban/environmental planning that prioritizes accessibility for those with mobility and sensory limitations 
  • Elect officials who prioritize the needs of older adults and promote policy change and innovation