Sensory disabilities, including vision disability and hearing disability, increase risk for social isolation, which is associated with multiple negative health outcomes. Existing literature suggests that the cultural value of familism may provide a buffer against social isolation. We examined the longitudinal trajectory of social isolation among Hispanic older adults with self-reported vision disability (SRVD) and self-reported hearing disability (SRHD) and tested a modified measure of social isolation incorporating familism.
We compared 8-year trajectories of social isolation among Hispanics (n = 445) and non-Hispanic Whites (n = 4,861) from the National Health and Aging Trends Study. We used structural equation modeling to explore the longitudinal relationships between sensory disability and social isolation while comparing two measures of social isolation.
Social isolation increased longitudinally for both groups, with SRVD significantly associated with higher initial levels. Social isolation started and remained higher across time among Hispanics. Using an adjusted measure of social isolation (added familial support), neither initial levels nor trajectories of social isolation differed between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White participants.
Initially, Hispanics appeared more socially isolated, reporting less social support from outside the home. Yet, we found that they were more likely to report family social connections. Traditional measures of social isolation focusing on social support outside of the home (neglecting support by family) may lack content validity among Hispanic groups. Culturally sensitive measures of social isolation will be increasingly consequential for future research and health policy to meet the needs of a diverse older population.