Social isolation can have real physical and mental health impacts.

Social isolation is a real problem for many older Australians, and it can have some serious consequences.

Research shows that regular, meaningful contact with others in a stable social network is key to both physical and mental wellbeing.

We know social isolation can result in physical symptoms like headaches, feeling ill, trouble sleeping and diet problems, including losing weight, losing your appetite or putting on weight.

In fact, social isolation can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular diseases, higher blood pressure, struggling to cope with stress, and greater susceptibility to infectious illnesses.

It can also take a toll emotionally, including feeling worthless or hopeless, and lead to panic attacks, anxiety and depression.

For many, social isolation is a slow decline, rather than a sudden event, which is one of the reasons it can be difficult to spot. Retirement is usually seen as something to be celebrated, but it also means you don’t have that guaranteed social contact you had at your job.

Other factors that can lead to social isolation include mobility issues, friends and family passing away, family moving out of state, or financial difficulties. And mental decline through diseases such as Alzheimer’s can be both a cause and an effect of social isolation.Alzheimer’s can be both a cause and an effect

MORE: Can group exercise improve your mental wellbeing?

What you can do to help

Helping to make a positive and proactive change for seniors in your family and community is often easy, and can have an incredible impact. Some simple things you can do include:

  • Make a call. If you are worried about one of your loved ones becoming socially isolated, taking the time to call or visit loved ones each day can make a real difference to their lives.
  • Support them to get out. You can help them access groups or activities – encourage them to join a club, or offer them a lift somewhere.
  • Volunteer or donate: Support organisations working to reduce the impact of social isolation. Volunteering can be great for your mental health as well!

The effects of social isolation have led organisations from across the globe to raise awareness of the issue, including Medibank’s Joy campaign to alleviate feelings of loneliness and social isolation for people in hospital.