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Addressing Growing Public Health Challenges; Social Isolation & Loneliness

Posted 11/16/2022 by krauter-egge@co.wood.wi.us



CONTACT: Susan Smith, Wood County Health Department Director/Health Officer

(715) 421-8911


Wood County Health Department Strives to Address Growing Public Health Challenges;

Social Isolation & Loneliness

Wisconsin Rapids, WI – Loneliness and social isolation are on the rise in Wisconsin and across the United States, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. While people of all ages and backgrounds can experience loneliness and social isolation, older adults and people with disabilities are uniquely susceptible which puts them at risk for significant health problems. Governor Evers recently declared November 13-19, 2022, as Social Isolation & Loneliness Awareness Week in Wisconsin to bring attention to the growing challenges and new initiatives to support people in Wisconsin communities.

In the U.S., 40% of people who have a disability and 43% of people aged 65 or older say they feel lonely some or all of the time. According to a 2020 AARP Foundation report, two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are experiencing social isolation, with 66% reporting that their anxiety levels have increased during the pandemic. Given the scope of the problem, individuals and organizations throughout the state, including the Wood County Health Department, have joined forces to form the Wisconsin Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness (WCESIL) to address the challenges and find community-based solutions.

While loneliness and social isolation are often combined into one, they are distinctly different according to the Wood County Health Department and a WCESIL member. “Social isolation is commonly defined as an objective measure of the number of contacts, and roles within their community, that a person has,” says Sue Smith, Wood County Health Officer. “People who are socially isolated have little, if any, contact with other people. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a subjective feeling about the gap between a person’s desired levels of social contact and their actual social contact.” Both, she says, are associated with physical, emotional, and psychological health impacts which include greater risk for cardiovascular events, depressive symptoms, cognitive decline, and abuse and neglect. “Prolonged isolation can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is an issue that needs attention,” says Smith.

While there are inherent challenges in finding and supporting lonely and isolated older adults and people with disabilities, there is also strong interest in finding community-based solutions. For organizations or neighborhoods interested in helping, we encourage creating age-friendly communities, along with inclusive and accessible public spaces and transportation. “Our hope is that by working together, we will better understand and support people who are lonely and isolated by raising awareness, engaging in policy initiatives, and sharing detection and support strategies to reduce loneliness and social isolation and improve health and safety in the process,” Smith added. Learn more about the Wisconsin Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness (WCESIL) at https://wihealthyaging.org/initiatives/isolation-and-loneliness/


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