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Publication Briefs

More Than Half of Veterans with Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders Have Greater Perceived Social Isolation Than the General Population

The quantity and quality of social relationships play a key role in mental, behavioral, and physical health. Perceived social isolation (PSI), or loneliness, can heighten the inflammatory response, which in turn can increase the risk of dementia, sleep problems, depression, and other negative cognitive, mental, and physical health outcomes. Veterans with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) might have greater risk of PSI due to disability caused by comorbidities or SCI/D secondary health conditions (e.g., bladder and bowel problems) and environmental barriers (e.g., inaccessible surroundings). Identifying factors associated with PSI can help healthcare professionals and other stakeholders identify Veterans at risk for PSI and highlight areas that can be targeted to help Veterans reduce PSI. This study examined PSI among Veterans living with SCI/D, and identified which demographics, injury characteristics, health factors, and objective social isolation measures were significantly associated with high PSI. Researchers surveyed 1,942 Veterans with SCI/D (Oct. 2022–Jan. 2023) who recently used the VA healthcare system and had a valid residential mailing address. Of those, 421 Veterans completed the survey (a 22% response rate).


  • Over half (56%)of the survey respondents had PSI scores higher than the general population.
  • Having a small social network (fewer than four people), depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress in the previous six months, or four or more chronic SCI/D secondary conditions was associated with increased odds of high PSI.
  • The most common Veteran-identified contributors to feelings of PSI included mobility concerns (63%), having a SCI/D (61%), and concerns about being a burden on others (57%).


Related Briefs

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What are HSR Publication Briefs?

HSR requires notification by HSR-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR published articles. Visit the HSR citations database for a complete listing of HSR articles and presentations.

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