Too many are experiencing social isolation

1/12/2017

In recent years awareness of the importance of social relations for good health has increased. Unfortunately, numbers tell us that too many are socially isolated.

Extreme social isolation

Social isolation can be defined in many different ways and the number of socially isolated will vary accordingly. 

If we define social isolation as both "living alone" and also "not having contact with family and friends on a weekly basis" researchers calculate that about 70,000 people in Norway (current population around 5 million) are experiencing this form of "extreme" social isolation. 

Especially elderly over the age of 80 years are experiencing this form of social isolation (Barstad & Sandvik, 2015).

Limited contact with friends

Another form of social isolation can be to have limited contact with friends and family. The figure below demonstrates the proportion of people reporting being without good friends or meeting friends less often than once a month. The figure shows that the proportion of people with limited friend contact increases with age. 

As many as 17 percent of seniors over 66 years have no good friends, or meet friends less than once a month. 

(A similar proportion of seniors are in touch with friends via telephone, email and the like, less than once a month.) The figure also shows that the proportion of people with limited friend contact has increased from 2002 to 2015, in all age groups (Statistics Norway, 2016).

Figure 1) Without good friends or meeting friends less often than once a month, by age. The population aged 16 years and over. 2015. Percent

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Source: Survey on the level of living, Statistics Norway, 2016.

Without someone to rely on

Having close friends and family members are seen as essential for people's social life. A third variant of social isolation can be to “lack someone to rely on." Interestingly, previous analyses show that not having any, versus having one or two people to rely on, means little for the experience of solitude. First when persons report having at least three people to rely on - the risk of solitude reduces strongly (Normann 2010, referenced in Barstad, 2015). Figure 2 demonstrates the proportion of people reporting having two or fewer people to rely on.

The proportion of people who have few people to rely on, has decreased from 2002 to 2015. However, in 2015 there are still large proportions who experience having few people to rely on. 

Over 30 percent of seniors over the age of 66 have two or fewer people to rely on should personal problems arise (Statistics Norway, 2016). 

This proportion is particularly startling when research shows that the risk of experiencing solitude reduces greatly when you have three or more people to rely on.

Figure 2) Got two or fewer people to rely on, should personal problems arise. The population aged 16 years and over. 2015. Percent

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Source: Survey on the level of living, Statistics Norway, 2016.

Summary

The statistics show that, according to both definitions, a number of people in Norway can be said to experience social isolation.This is worrying. Research shows that social isolation both leads to loneliness and health problems. We in No Isolation do not want anyone to live in social isolation involuntarily. Our first product, the robot AV1, is helping children and young adults with long-term illnesses out of social isolation. Going forward we will also work towards helping adults and seniors out of social isolation and loneliness.

Sources

Barstad, A. and Sandvik, L. (2015) Participation, support, trust and belonging. Statistics Norway. Report 2015/51. Read summary in English and report in Norwegian.

Statistics Norway (2016). "Social contact, survey on level of living". Find tables and create your own tables.

Written by: Oda Opdal Zachrisen - zachrisen@noisolation.com