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J Gerontol Soc Work. 2015;58(4):338-56. doi: 10.1080/01634372.2015.1007258. Epub 2015 Jan 14.

The heterogeneity of socially isolated older adults: a social isolation typology.

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a Foundations and Methods Department , University of Humanistic Studies , Utrecht , The Netherlands.


Recent statistics show a growing number of older adults who are living alone and are socially isolated. It is against this background that, in recent years, many interventions have been developed to address social isolation among the elderly. Evaluative studies show that most interventions are hardly effective, though. An important reason for this is the heterogeneity of the socially isolated. This article offers insight into this heterogeneity by presenting a typology with different profiles of socially isolated older adults and the intervention implications of this typology. The typology is derived from an extensive qualitative study on socially isolated elderly individuals in the Netherlands. The typology imposes some degree of order to a diversity of circumstances, ambitions, and possibilities of the socially isolated elderly, thereby deepening the understanding of the heterogeneity of this population. The definition of social isolation used in this study starts from a societal angle of incidence, namely the current policy context of Western European welfare states, in which governments emphasize the importance of independence and self-reliance of their citizens. Developed from that perspective, the typology provides a theoretical basis for applying interventions aimed at increasing self-reliance of social isolated elderly. This perspective on social isolation also has consequences for the way in which the effectiveness of interventions to alleviate social isolation is assessed.


heterogeneity; older adults; qualitative study; social interventions; social isolation

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