Social isolation in older adults: an evolutionary concept analysis

J Adv Nurs. 2009 Jun;65(6):1342-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04959.x. Epub 2009 Mar 9.


Aim: This paper is a report of an analysis of the concept of social isolation as experienced by older adults.

Background: Social isolation is a serious problem with older adults that is expected to increase in the future. Although strong correlations exist between social isolation and negative health consequences, few interventions exist. One contributing factor to this is a lack of conceptual clarity.

Data sources: The CINAHL, PsycINFO and Medline databases and the Web of Science were searched using the key terms social isolation, social networks, older adults, elderly and social integration for publications between 1983 and 2007.

Review methods: An evolutionary concept analysis was undertaken. References were read in their entirety and analysed based on the summary of surrogate terms, related concepts, attributes, antecedents and consequences.

Findings: Five attributes were identified: number of contacts, feeling of belonging, fulfilling relationships, engagement with others and quality of network members. Antecedents included: lack of relationships, psychological barriers, physical barriers, low financial and resource exchange, and prohibitive environment. Roy's Adaptation Model is proposed as a theoretical context into which social isolation fits.

Conclusion: Numerous definitions are used to describe social isolation, but they lack uniformity, consistency and clarity; this impairs the further development and refinement of the concept. This concept analysis can offer additional understanding and a starting point for future research related to social isolation.

MeSH terms

  • Aged / psychology*
  • Aged, 80 and over / psychology
  • Concept Formation*
  • Humans
  • Loneliness
  • Nursing Theory*
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Isolation*
  • Social Support