Association between Social Isolation and the Risk of Incident Functional Disability in Elderly Survivors after the Great East Japan Earthquake

Tohoku J Exp Med. 2023 Dec 26;261(4):325-333. doi: 10.1620/tjem.2023.J084. Epub 2023 Oct 12.


Social isolation is frequently observed among survivors of disaster. However, there is limited evidence regarding the association between social isolation and adverse health outcomes among survivors of disaster. The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between social isolation and the risk of incident functional disability (IFD) among survivors of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE). We conducted a prospective cohort study of 1,039 residents aged ≥ 65 years who lived in four areas affected by the GEJE. Information regarding social isolation and other lifestyle factors was collected between June and November 2011 via a self-reported questionnaire. Social isolation was assessed using the Lubben Social Network Scale-6 (LSNS-6). Data regarding the incidence of functional disability were retrieved from the Long-term Care Insurance database. The Cox model was used to calculate multivariate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for IFD. During 7,030 person-years of follow-up, 300 cases of IFD were certified (42.7disability events per 1,000 person-years). Social isolation was associated with increased risk of IFD in disaster survivors (HR = 1.32, 95% CI = 0.98-1.76). In addition, this association tended to be more remarkable among men and those whose houses were completely/seriously damaged. The present results suggest us that it would be possible to identify those who are more likely to be affected by social isolation after disaster. This finding would be useful in screening and supporting high risk group right after the occurrence of disaster.

Keywords: Great East Japan Earthquake; disaster survivors; functional disability; prospective cohort study; social isolation.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Earthquakes*
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Social Isolation
  • Survivors