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Arch Hellen Med, 35(4), July-August 2018, 506-519


Social isolation and well-being among older adults in Europe

M. Vozikaki,1 A. Papadaki,2 M. Linardakis,1 A. Philalithis1
1Department of Social Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Crete, Heraklion, Crete, Greece
2Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

OBJECTIVE To examine the distribution of different elements of social isolation according to background characteristics at the individual and country level, and investigate whether social isolation is associated with well-being outcomes among European older adults.

METHOD This was a secondary data analysis of participants aged ≥65 years (n=5,129), who took part in the first wave of the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, 2004/5 (SHARE). Well-being was determined by the clustering of six indicators comprising life satisfaction, quality of life, self-rated health, depressive symptomatology, chronic diseases and body mass index (BMI). Social isolation was determined using seven specific aspects of older people's living conditions.

RESULTS Analysis of covariance showed that a significantly higher mean score of well-being was attested among adults with frequent parent-child contact (p=0.028) and at least one social or productive involvement (p=0.001). Multiple logistic regression analysis indicated a significantly lower likelihood of displaying ≥4 well-being outcomes among the oldest-old, the retired and socially disengaged and a higher likelihood for the most highly educated respondents and those involved in rare or no social support exchanges. Northern Europeans were more likely to indicate more well-being outcomes and less social isolation indicators than their southern counterparts.

CONCLUSIONS These cross-sectional findings offer empirical support to the social structure of social isolation and its potentially adverse effect on specific well-being outcomes in old age. Public health and social policies are needed to better address the potential well-being implications of social isolation among European older adults.

Key words: Older adults, SHARE study, Social isolation, Well-being.

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