While research on isolation in community-dwelling older adults (e.g., older adults still living in their own homes) is prevalent, less attention has been focused on examining the experience of social isolation in group residences like Life Plan Communities.
Recently, researchers asked both residents and staff in a Life Plan Community to provide their assessment of how socially isolated residents felt within their community. In the case of the residents, this information was collected via 47 in-person interviews with questions directed at the residents’ experiences and feelings of social isolation. Explicitly, questions centered around perceptions of social connection, social isolation, and the experience of loneliness. Staff were also asked to provide their assessment of similar dimensions within the community based on their experience with the resident population.
What the researchers found was that assessments of social isolation and related concepts were markedly different between staff and residents. Specifically, 26 percent of residents interviewed were deemed socially isolated using a validated measure of social isolation. That includes 19 percent who stated that they lack companionship, 11 percent who felt isolated from others in the community, and 19 percent who expressed that they often felt left out. Conversely, staff who participated in the study rated 61 percent of residents as not experiencing any social isolation at all, 27 percent as experiencing a little bit of isolation, and only 12 percent as having some or a lot of isolation within their community.
In summary, one in every four residents reported social isolation, compared to staff who perceived that one in eight residents were struggling to feel connected. Additional research should ensue—particularly because this study was conducted in a single community. That said, Life Plan Communities can take away from this early research that some magnitude of discrepancy likely exists within their community. And, that when trying to assess something as important as social isolation, it may be prudent to assess the issue by asking multiple stakeholders—residents, staff, and other integral individuals alike.