A Review of Social Isolation

An Important but Underassessed Condition in Older Adults

Nicholas R. Nicholson


J Prim Prev. 2012;33(2-3):137-152. 

In This Article


According to the Nursing Diagnosis Handbook: An Evidence-Based Guide to Planning Care, social isolation is an official nursing diagnosis (Ackley & Ladwig, 2010). There are both objective and subjective characteristics of an individual who is socially isolated, many of which are outlined above. These characteristics can be used to holistically assess an older adult for social isolation or risk of social isolation. Social isolation is a diagnosis that nurses are expected to be aware of and to use in their practice.

Nursing practice needs to be supported by evidence from ongoing research efforts. The evidence presented in this review article highlights the significance of the numerous negative health outcomes related to social isolation. There is also evidence to support various factors that could be used to identify which community-dwelling older adults may be at high risk of social isolation. However, despite this substantial evidence, social isolation is rarely assessed in primary care settings, such as during home visits from community health nurses. By knowing these factors, public health professionals have the opportunity to assess and identify at-risk older adults using the techniques described herein. Once identified, at-risk older adults can be referred to appropriate resources to prevent social isolation. Use of appropriate intervention strategies can be implemented in order to alleviate social isolation and its many associated detrimental health effects, and future plans of care should focus on prevention of future social isolation.


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