Social Isolation’s Impact on Health Outcomes and Health Spending

Taken from bipartisanpolicy.org

Research has that found that both social isolation and loneliness increase mortality across age, gender, and country of origin. Specifically, one roundtable participant noted a recent meta-analysis based on a comprehensive literature search (a review of publications from 1980 to 2014 on 3.4 million subjects) that found a 29 percent increased risk of mortality associated with social isolation and a 26 percent increased risk of loneliness, which were both consistent worldwide. Roundtable participants also explored other recent research that compared social isolation with well-established risk factors and that recognized that isolation could be an even bigger public health threat than smoking or obesity and that it could raise the risk of premature death by up to 50 percent.

With these statistics in mind, roundtable participants also discussed the significant impact of social isolation on health care spending. They noted a recent collaborative study by the AARP, Stanford University, and Harvard University that found the Medicare program spends an estimated $134 more per person monthly ($1,608 annually) for every socially isolated older adult, compared with those who were not socially isolated—a level of spending comparable to what Medicare pays for certain chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure or arthritis. In total, the study estimated that a lack of social contact among older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually.

Given the significant health and economic impacts of social isolation and loneliness, roundtable participants agreed the time is now to develop collaborative solutions to improve social connectedness, particularly among the nation’s rural and aging seniors.

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