About this Website

The purpose of this website is to provide a one-stop knowledge hub for those who are working to reduce seniors’ social isolation and to increase their social inclusion.

This website show cases the resources developed by collective impact projects designed to reduce seniors’ social isolation at the population level, funded by the Government of Canada New Horizons Pan-Canadian 2015-2016 program: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/new-horizons-seniors.html

This website also holds reports and other resources from around the world related to understanding and addressing seniors’ social isolation and increasing their social inclusion.

Please contact healthwell@shaw.ca if you have a resource to share, or have feedback about this website.

Defining Social Isolation
Social isolation is commonly defined as a low quantity and quality of contact with others. A situation of social isolation involves few social contacts and few social roles, as well as the absence of mutually rewarding relationships”. Social isolation can lead to poor health, loneliness, emotional distress and other negative effects.

About the Issue

Research shows that social isolation and exclusion are associated with:

• increased chance of premature death;
• reduced sense of well-being;
• more depression;
• dementia
• more disability from chronic diseases;
• poor mental health;
• increased use of health and support services;
• reduced quality of life;
• caregiver burden;
• poor general health;
• increased number of falls.

Social isolation can put seniors at greater risk of death than factors such as obesity and physical inactivity. One study found evidence that shows that lacking social connections can increase one’s chances for early death to a similar degree to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Along with the personal effects of social isolation come significant costs to society. For example, socially isolated seniors are not able to fully participate in or contribute to their communities by volunteering or supporting local businesses and events. The adverse effects of social isolation can lead to increased costs in health care and social services. Seniors who are socially isolated, compared to those who are not, make more visits to their doctor and to emergency rooms; they use more medication; fall more often; and enter residential care sooner. Some socially isolated seniors may however hold back from using health care services or use them in later stages of illness or disability. Whether social isolation results in increased or delayed use of health care (i.e. until health worsens), it is harmful to the health care system and to the seniors involved.

Social isolation is also linked to undervaluing seniors in our society—negative images of seniors make them feel not needed, valued or able to contribute. People, organizations and society all suffer when seniors become socially isolated and stop contributing to their communities. Given the opportunities and challenges accompanying Canada’s changing demographics, now is the time to address this issue. Individuals and organizations can work with each other and with seniors to create resources and solutions to improve seniors’ social inclusion.

Seniors Social Isolation in Canada

Canada’s population is aging rapidly as a growing proportion of baby boomers transition into their senior years. In 2015, for the first time, the number of persons aged 65 years and older exceeded the number of children aged 0 to 14 years. At the same time, the growth rate of the population aged 65 years and older was 3.5% – approximately four times the growth rate of the total population.

While most seniors are engaged in mutually-supporting social networks and are involved in their communities, there are significant numbers who experience episodic or long term social isolation.
Data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, a large-scale study with a range of social isolation indicators, provide an overall sense of the magnitude of the problem (Statistics Canada, 2010). Accordingly:

• 16% of seniors felt isolated from others often or some of the time
• 6% of seniors reported spending little or no time with someone with whom they could complete enjoyable activities
• 5% indicated having someone to listen to them none or little of the time
• More than 8% reported having someone to receive advice about a crisis none or little of the time
• 3.9% of seniors reported having someone who shows love and affection to them none or little of the time
• 6% reported having someone to do something enjoyable with none or little of the time
• 6% reported never or not often participating in activities with family and friends
• 17.3% reported feeling excluded often or some of the time


Social Isolation in Canadian Older Adults

Review of social isolation in Canada: prevalence, risk and protective factors and evidence informed interventions.

Read More: Social Isolation in Canadian Older Adults