Social isolation and loneliness are gaining increasing attention as risks to health and well-being among older adults worldwide. In the United States, about one-third of Americans aged 60 and over are estimated to feel lonely, and one-quarter of Americans aged 65 and over live alone. Social isolation and loneliness are closely related, but have an important difference: social isolation is used to describe situations where people live alone and have very few social connections, while loneliness is the feeling of being lonely regardless of one’s true level of social connection.
Loneliness, or feeling alone, is often a consequence of social isolation, but there are cases where the two situations do not match up. For example, many people actively seek and enjoy solitude, and would be defined as being socially isolated but not lonely. On the other hand, loneliness, as an affective state, is sometimes more related to a person’s level of mental health or depression rather than his or her actual living situation. As people age, it becomes increasingly common that they are “alone but not lonely”, as reduced social network sizes are often expected and prepared for as people age.