Aging brings wisdom and experience; however, for some individuals getting older can also mean health challenges, loss of friends, and decreased mobility, leading to social isolation. And this isolation increases smoking habits of older adults, according to a recent study.
A recent study conducted by Associate Professor Gilbert Gimm and his team sheds light on the association between social isolation and smoking among older adults, highlighting the need for interventions to address this issue.
SOCIAL ISOLATION AS A RISK FACTOR FOR SMOKING
The study revealed that 17.1% of older adults in the United States experience social isolation, making them more likely to smoke compared to those with regular social interactions within their communities. Moreover, older adults with higher levels of depression and anxiety demonstrated a greater likelihood of smoking. The findings underscore the interplay between social isolation, mental health, and smoking behaviour, all of which contribute to health challenges and premature death.
IMPACT OF SOCIAL ISOLATION ON SMOKING HABITS
The research demonstrated varying levels of social isolation among older adults, ranging from limited communication with others to complete lack of connection with the community. Older adults experiencing moderate social isolation, characterized by only being able to connect via phone without in-person interactions, were twice as likely to smoke compared to socially connected individuals. Meanwhile, older adults facing severe social isolation, with no connection or interaction within the community, were five times more likely to smoke.
IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
While the study did not establish a definitive causal relationship between smoking and social isolation, both factors contribute to increased health risks and premature death among older adults. The findings highlight the urgent need to address social isolation as a risk factor for smoking, with potential interventions focusing on reducing social isolation and promoting social connections among older individuals. By enhancing social engagement, older adults can improve their overall health and life expectancy.
The study analyzed data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, involving 8,136 adults aged 65 or older. The research, titled “Examining the Association of Social Isolation and Smoking in Older Adults,” was published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology in June 2023.