According to Dr. Vyjeyanthi Periyakoil, Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford, “assuaging loneliness is not just about having random human contact; it’s about the quality of that contact and who you’re having contact with”. (Source: Understanding Loneliness In Older Adults And Tailoring A Solution.

There is no single solution to social isolation and loneliness because people become isolated or lonely for different reasons. For one person, it may be the loss of a loved one, and for another, an illness or financial setback. For this reason, it has been difficult to identify successful interventions to address social isolation across populations. Only recently have there been efforts to align definitions, study populations, research priorities, and strategic responses. As a result, interventions have not been systematic but rather have arisen from single disciplinary philosophies across various conceptual frameworks.

Tested models focus on the individual, social networks, community and built environment, and society. (Source: AARP Foundation. Framework for Isolation in Adults Over 50.)

  • One-on-one socialization, including volunteer home visiting programs such as “Friendly Visitors” or “Senior Companions” or telephone-based reassurance checks
  • Health related interventions, including telemedicine and medical care for homebound seniors, home visiting case management, and care coordination
  • Home delivered meals programs that provide regular interpersonal contact
  • Computer-based programs, including computer literacy to enhance networking and online university curricula
  • Adaptive technologies to improve mobility, function, and communication
  • Personal care services
  • Evidence-based mental health treatment to address underlying or comorbid behavioral health conditions

  • Group-focused interventions, including senior centers (including virtual and phone-based centers), mentoring programs to increase creativity and social activity, social model day programs such as Community-Based Adult Services, and support groups (grief, recovery, etc.) 
  • Intergenerational programs, such as programs which integrate childcare and eldercare or bring elders into meaningful contact with school-age children for tutoring, teaching, reading, and intergenerational sharing 
  • Caregiver respite

  • Community/neighborhood organizing, including the “Village” model and “Gatekeepers” program which educates younger members of the community about older adult safety, well-being, and supportive services to increase awareness and capacity for crisis intervention 
  • Permanent supportive housing with congregate meals and enrichment activities 
  • Affordable and accessible transportation options 
  • Senior volunteer opportunities and programs 
  • Age-Friendly Cities and Communities sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and AARP

  • Social justice movements to affect sweeping societal change that aims to dismantle ageism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of inequity, all of which contribute to escalating rates of social isolation, loneliness, and social disconnectedness

Approaches In Alameda County

Over the decades, Alameda County has created a network of programs and services which encompass a range of approaches to combat social isolation. These programs vary in capacity and geographical reach, and some are available to all while others have strict eligibility criteria. They have developed in response to the dire need and ever-growing demand for older adult programming. Planning has not always been strategic with specific goals or outcomes in mind, but because “it’s the right thing to do.” A preponderance of research now clearly indicates that social isolation and loneliness cost our society and our community in many ways, both tangible and intangible. Though Alameda County has made great strides in providing supportive services for older adults in all parts of the County, it will require a strategic and coordinated effort to prevent and treat the root causes of social isolation as our population of vulnerable older adults grows and society changes.