Previous research has identified a wide range of indicators of social isolation that pose health risks, including living alone, having a small social network, infrequent participation in social activities, and feelings of loneliness. However, multiple forms of isolation are rarely studied together, making it difficult to determine which aspects of isolation are most deleterious for health. Using population-based data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, we combine multiple indicators of social isolation into scales assessing social disconnectedness (e.g., small social network, infrequent participation in social activities) and perceived isolation (e.g., loneliness, perceived lack of social support). We examine the extent to which social disconnectedness and perceived isolation have distinct associations with physical and mental health among older adults. Results indicate that social disconnectedness and perceived isolation are independently associated with lower levels of self-rated physical health. However, the association between disconnectedness and mental health may operate through the strong relationship between perceived isolation and mental health. We conclude that health researchers need to consider social disconnectedness and perceived isolation simultaneously.
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