"Social isolation is a state of complete or near-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It differs from loneliness, which reflects a temporary lack of contact with other humans. Social isolation can be an issue for individuals of any age, though symptoms may differ by age group." Wikipedia
Many of us think of it a modern phenomenon and that it's a 'condition' mainly associated with the elderly - only 17% of older people in the UK are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week.
But we'd be wrong to assume it's an age thing. It's just as likely to occur with those who've just had a baby, are a single parent, live in a city, work unsociable hours, come from another country, are housebound, disabled or aren't in contact with family.
"As well as the sadness it can bring, being alone, isolation and feelings of loneliness are also associated with reduced quality of life. "
Social isolation can be more accurately measured by the number of social contacts the person has. Wellbeing may not be positively correlated with social contact and a great deal depends on the nature of the contacts made.
For some people, solitude is a way of life which temperamentally suits them and they may not feel lonely even if they have no visitors. I guess what we're talking about here is not if people can cope, it's whether social interventions benefit them.
Our GPs and community nurses, who are best placed to identify loneliness, as they are in contact with the three groups most at risk - very old people, bereaved people, and people with disabilities – have a hard time spotting the signs. How do you decide if it's someone's personality, rather than the start of a problem?
Many of the conversations the Moodbeam team have had with those in the community care sector, surrounding social isolation, tend to reflect on what sort of contact the person at the centre of care has with others during the day.
The key to constant care without intrusion, we've concluded, is being able to 'check in' with those most vulnerable but in a way that doesn't intrude. There are some fantastic interventions, ranging from technology that lets you know if a fridge door has been opened that day, right through to community groups who deliver newspapers or pamphlets to those who might not see another person all day.
Some great awareness raising projects have seen hairdressers reaching out to the homeless and rootless just to help them feel human again, others use their local village hall to set up monthly natters just so those feeling most isolated can sit among the community and have a cuppa.
One project set up for the homeless and isolated by the committee for Geelong, was summed up well in this sentence: "Although we’d like to believe ‘what is inside counts most,’ scientific evidence, as well as common sense, tells us that an appealing appearance, good health and hygiene positively impacts our lives.” - Vivien Diller PhD, The Psychology Behind a Good Hair Day.
We do live in a generous-hearted society on the whole – the bigger problem is identifying those who are starting to feel lonely, out of touch or housebound through fear or consequence and we don't all have the luxury of time to figure out what that looks like.
Just being able to see how someone is feeling in these instances is what excites care practitioners the most about Moodbeam. As an entire solution, it will allow those most at risk to be pinpointed, allowing for earlier interventions and conversations to take place. Equally, because the power of expressing themselves is literally in their hands, their GP or community nurse might conclude that this gives them the freedom to continue living the life they enjoy,but know someone cares and the information is there to share once in a while.
Our intention is equip society with this little device when they have a change in circumstance just to keep an eye on the change in lifestyle that may bring. We want to encourage a nation of copers, who can find a perspective in their day – but that they're not on their with this – imagine a nation who feel totally empowered and prepared for what lies ahead.
Now that's social progress.