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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Building Social Connections to Combat Loneliness

The U.S. Surgeon General declared loneliness an epidemic in the United States in a recent report. While loneliness and isolation affect people of all ages and backgrounds, research has found some groups have higher levels of loneliness. Groups that are more likely to experience loneliness include people with poor physical or mental health, disabilities, financial insecurity, those who live alone, single parents, immigrants, and individuals who identify as LGBT+, and younger and older populations. As an organization that focuses on serving and supporting older adults, including LGBT+ older adults, the findings of this report are especially significant.

Loneliness and isolation are often used interchangeably, but they are, in fact, not the same. Social isolation is the lack of relationships with others and little to no social support or contact. It is associated with risk even if people don’t feel lonely. Loneliness is feeling alone or disconnected from others. It is feeling like you do not have meaningful or close relationships or a sense of belonging.

While loneliness and isolation have been declining by some measures, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues by cutting off so many people from friends, family, loved ones, and support systems. While technology has the ability to connect us more than ever, it can also cause us to lose connection by decreasing in-person engagement, increasing distractions, reducing the quality of interactions, and diminishing self-esteem.

Why Social Connection Matters

Social connection is a fundamental human need, as essential to survival as food, water, and shelter. We all have a biological need to connect with others. Evidence has shown that a lack of social connection can negatively impact an individual’s physical and mental health.

Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to an increased risk of:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Suicidality and self-harm
  • Dementia
  • Infectious diseases
  • Earlier death

A lack of social connection can also have a significant economic cost to individuals, communities, and society. Among older adults, social isolation alone accounts for an estimated $6.7 billion dollars in excess Medicare spending annually, largely due to increased hospital and nursing home spending.

People with meaningful social connections have:

  • Less stress and better sleep.
  • Better quality of life and sense of belonging.
  • Healthier habits and behaviors.
  • Better overall health.
  • A longer life.
  • More trusting and reciprocal relationships.

Creating and Improving Social Connection

Social connection is essential to living a happy and healthy life. Everyone can intentionally find new ways to build social connections in their community. A few ways to create more connection include:

  • Spend more quality time with family and friends.
  • Join a group, club, or class related to an interest or hobby (books, art, sports).
  • Spend time with others in nature.
  • Express gratitude to others.
  • Get involved in your community.
  • Get to know your neighbors.
  • If you cannot be with others in person, substitute a phone call for screen time.
  • Volunteer with an organization.
  • Expand and diversify your social network by making a new acquaintance or friend, especially someone different from you. For example, consider cultivating an intergenerational friendship.
  • Provide social support to others, such as listening to a friend dealing with a problem.

More ways to improve social connections

Join CMSS’ Senior Connections Program

CMSS’ Senior Connections is a no-cost program that matches volunteers with older adults to create mutually beneficial friendships that reduce loneliness and social isolation. Older adults are matched with volunteers for a weekly in-person visit or phone call. Volunteers are thoughtfully paired with an older adult to create the most meaningful connection possible. Additionally, the Senior Connections program provides volunteers with hybrid training sessions to enhance their role performance and foster positive interactions with older adults. What’s better is that the Senior Connections program is not just a way to combat isolation and loneliness, it is a way to build stronger communities. While we are currently in the process of re-launching a more robust Senior Connections program, you can learn more and connect with us here.

Small acts of connection lay the foundation for supportive, valuable, inclusive, and meaningful relationships. Each of us helps make meaningful connections in our roles as friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, community members and global citizens.

Join Senior Connections


Gardiner, C., Geldenhuys, G., & Gott, M. (2016, July 13). Interventions to reduce social isolation and loneliness among older people: An integrative review. Health & Social Care in the Community, 26(2), 147–157.

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population

Health (2023, March 30). Health Risks of Social Isolation and Loneliness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health (2023, March 30). Ways to Improve Social Connectedness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health (2023, April 28). The Power of Connection: How It Can Improve Our Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health (2021, April 29). Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Senior Connections SOP 2023

U.S.G. (2023, May 2). Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. The U.S. Surgeon General’s

Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community.

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