All medical specialties need to screen for isolation. Asking patients who their social supports are and who they feel close to is a good starting point.
A centenarian I cared for taught me the importance of social connections and health. During the start of the pandemic her connections were severed. She lived in her home independently with neighbors, family, and friends, stopping to check in on her from time to time. Our initial visit was on Zoom. Giggling with her about how much communication tools have changed in her lifetime is one of the greatest moments of my medical training. I reviewed her medical history, and though her main medical concern during the visit was falls, social isolation was another major problem that I felt less equipped to address.
Social isolation is a lack of relationships and/or infrequency of social contact. It’s a risk factor for morbidity and mortality comparable to risk factors like smoking, hypertension, and a sedentary lifestyle, things we regularly screen for in our patients.
1. Do you feel isolated, lack companionship, or feel left out?
2. Who are your social supports? How many people do you feel you can depend on or that you feel close to?
3. Do you have access to phone or video communication technologies to connect with others?
For patients who are isolated the best thing we can do is strategize with them about specific communities or activities they can engage in. Below are two national resources to explore for older adults that are socially isolated. You can also search for local resources, such as the senior center in your community.
1. Friendship Line 1-800-971-0016
2. Senior Planet from AARP: live online classes for seniors.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of social connections to health and wellness. It’s the work of every clinician, regardless of their specialization, to take time to screen patients and connect them to resources to combat this serious condition.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.