What is Social and Emotional Isolation?

“I really miss having a close circle of friends. My husband and closest friends have died, my kids and grandkids have moved away, and I’ve retired from work and volunteering. I’m alone a lot and can’t seem to find anyone I can really talk to now.” — Sadie, 81-year-old


Many older adults have fewer social interactions and fewer supportive relationships than in their younger years.


If you are alone most of the time—a state known as social isolation—or if you frequently feel lonely—a condition known as emotional isolation—this can have serious health consequences and/or can lead to an overall lack of well-being. The good news is that isolation can be reduced or eliminated, and your quality-of-life improved.


Social isolation is when you have very little or no social contact so you lack supportive, satisfying, or rewarding relationships in life. For some, this means not having people to do things with, whether going out to lunch or the movies, discussing books or current events, or walking in the park. For others, this isolation may mean not having anyone to help out with shopping, cooking, or other daily needs. Still, for others, social isolation may mean not having anyone checking in to make sure everything is okay, leaving the older person worried about who to turn to should an emergency arise.


Emotional isolation is a feeling that can range from a vague sense that there is something missing in life to an intense sensation of emptiness. It is a longing for a close relationship, someone to converse with in a meaningful way, someone with whom you can share your deepest joys, desires and fears, someone to touch and be touched by. When experiencing emotional isolation, you may believe that no one cares about you or that nobody needs you in his or her life. This can lead to depression, anxiety and to further isolation.


How Can I Tell If I Am Isolated?

What Impact Can Isolation Have?

How Does Isolation Happen?

What Can I Do to Reduce or Eliminate Isolation?



This resource provides brief, general information about this topic. It does not take the place of specific instructions you may receive from health care or service providers. Copyright NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital 2006. All rights reserved.