In Canada, older adults are facing growing rates of social isolation and loneliness. This can hurt both their physical and mental health. But loneliness and isolation do not have to be an inevitable part of aging. Working together, we can strengthen social connections to help maintain good health.
Defining social isolation and loneliness
These two terms are often used together but have their own meanings. Social isolation means a lack of relationships and it can be measured. Loneliness, however, is less clear but it is described as the feeling we get that our social relationships are lacking compared with what we want them to be.
Nearly one in five Canadians 65 years and older say they lack companionship. Nearly one-third of older Canadians are at risk of being socially isolated. And the COVID pandemic has fuelled higher rates of social isolation and loneliness. The result can hurt physical and mental well-being.
The impact of social isolation and loneliness among older adults
Social isolation and loneliness among older adults have been linked to an increased risk of:
- Stroke (32%)
- Coronary heart disease (29%)
- Dementia (50%)
- Cancer mortality (25%)
- Premature death (45%)
Strengthening social connections to maintain good health
While the risks are serious, they are not inevitable. Increased social engagement has been linked to decreased disability and premature death. Some examples of social engagement include in-person or online social connections, volunteering and community participation, as well as physical activity.
Building tools for care providers
The Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health has launched a project on Social Isolation and Loneliness in older adults. This project is meant to lead in the development and distribution of Canadian clinical guidelines that can be used by health and social service providers to support their patients and clients. These guidelines will help providers recognize, assess and treat isolation and loneliness among older adults.
The project will also create a variety of tools and resources to support action across health and social professional fields. We look forward to engaging the diversity of experiences, knowledge and wisdom of older adults and health and social service professionals throughout the project.
For more information about the project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Much of the information presented here comes from Understanding Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Older Canadians and How to Address It, from the National Institute on Ageing and the RTOERO Foundation.