Abstract: Addressing the Grand Challenge of Social Isolation Among Older Adults in Subsidized Housing (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Addressing the Grand Challenge of Social Isolation Among Older Adults in Subsidized Housing

Friday, January 18, 2019: 9:45 AM
Continental Parlor 8, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Robin Bonifas, PhD, Associate Professor, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Background and Purpose:The Grand Challenge to Eradicate Social Isolation has significant implications for gerontological social work practice. Among older adults the experience of loneliness can negatively impact physical health, mental health, and psychosocial functioning; the intersection of these three domains are primary concerns for practitioners in aging. Although considerable literature provides a foundation for understanding loneliness among diverse older populations, limited research has focused on loneliness among older adults living in independent subsidized housing. As part of a larger study examining health and social outcomes among older tenants of a  government subsidized apartment building in an large metropolitan city this presentation introduces a cross-sectional survey that assessed the relationship between loneliness and emotional well-being, physical functioning, intrinsic spirituality, and sense of community connectedness among older adults in the sample. It was hypothesized that emotional well-being and physical functioning would be negatively associated with loneliness while intrinsic spirituality and community connectedness would be positively associated.

Methods: Loneliness was measured via the UCLA Loneliness Scale (Russell, 1996); emotional well-being and physical functioning via the Rand 36-Item Health Survey (SF-36, Rand, 1994); spirituality via the Intrinsic Spirituality Scale (Hodge, 2003), and sense of community connectedness via the Sense of Community Index II (Chavis, Lee, & Acosta, 2008). The combined survey instrument was administered through individual interviews with 40 out of 279 tenants,who expressed an interest in participating in the study. The sample was 60 percent male and 57 percent Caucasian,and 20 percent multi-racial. The majority had completed some college; 15 percent were veterans of the United States military.

Results: Findings revealed high levels of loneliness with 82 percent of the sample reporting frequent episodes of moderate to severe loneliness. Multiple linear regression results indicated that the four independent variables predicted 34.7 percent of the variance in loneliness (f = 6.192; p< .001). Physical functioning was not an independent predictor(b= .125; p= .417), and contrary to the study hypothesis, higher emotional well being (b= .422; p< .01)and a stronger sense of community connectedness (b= .332; p< .05) were associated with higher levels of loneliness. Consistent with the study hypothesis, greater intrinsic spirituality (b= -.297; p< .05) was associated with lower reported loneliness.

Conclusion and Implications: Amongst this sample, results suggest that older tenants may experience loneliness in spite of having high emotional well being and feeling connected to the community as a whole. In addition, finding meaning in their spirituality can potentially serve as a protection against loneliness. Findings should be interpreted with caution as the participants were self-selected and may not be representative of all older tenants in the building or living in subsidized housing. However, loneliness reduction interventions in these settings might achieve greater leverage if targeted toward all tenants rather than those perceived at higher risk to experience loneliness, and by incorporating tenants’ spiritual values into social isolation reduction efforts.