Social isolation and loneliness is on the rise. Two in 5 Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy went so far as to call it an epidemic.

“During my years of caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness,” she said.

Add in logistics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over a quarter of the nation’s population -- and 28% of older adults -- now live by themselves.

That could be a life-threatening combination.

Social isolation poses as great a risk to mortality as obesity and smoking. Researchers have found it affects a person’s health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in the risk of stroke, studies have shown. It’s also been linked to an increased risk of stress, substance use, depression, suicide and Alzheimer’s disease.

Drivers for the Senior Connections Meals on Wheels Program know first-hand how isolated some older adults can get. During ride-alongs in 2018 and 2019, drivers mentioned that they are often the only person their clients see all day.

Lack of connection could also affect a person’s bank account. Older adults who are socially isolated have higher incidences of abuse and exploitation, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.

The University of Wisconsin-Superior Center for Continuing Education is hosting a series of workshops addressing the issues of isolation, loneliness and social connection and engagement. It kicks off July 10 and continues through the end of October.

Although there is a fee to attend each session, scholarship assistance is available through the Helen Daniels Bader Fund. Additional help is available for caregivers and volunteers interested in participating. Call 715-394-8469 or visit the registration site.