"I like being alone, but not all the time. When my knee got really bad, I was forced to be alone and that’s when you get lonely. When you have a car and you are lonely, you can get in the car and go."
"I retired and lost my workplace; then my wife died. I was falling into depression until a friend got me involved with fitness classes at our seniors' centre."
"I don’t like going outside when the weather is too cold, but my ESL class is where I see my friends and learn some English. I wouldn’t miss it for anything."
"You can be in a crowd of three thousand people at a football game, and you could be lonely. Yet you can be at home reading, watching the tube or whatever, and you're not lonely. Like I said I don't think the feeling of loneliness has got anything to do with the number of people around you. It's the quality of the people that are around you that's the important part. Whether it's one or a dozen."
“Social isolation is a low quantity and quality of contact with others. Social isolation involves a situation of few social contacts, few social roles, and the absence of mutually-rewarding relationships.”
Source: Keefe, J., Andrew, M., Fancey, P. & Hall, M. (2006). Final Report: A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada. Submitted to the Chair of the F/P/T Working Group on Social Isolation.
This definition includes both objective measurement of social networks (quantity) and the person’s subjective perceptions of loneliness (quality).
The term loneliness is often used interchangeably with social isolation. Loneliness is a subjective perspective that refers to how people feel about their interactions with others. It is the feeling of being without the types of relationships one desires.
Social isolation may increase the likelihood of loneliness, but a person can feel lonely even when in the company of others. One can have few social contacts and not feel lonely and someone who has many contacts and a busy social life can still feel lonely.
“Another way to think about the relationship between social isolation and loneliness is: Isolation is being by yourself. Loneliness is not liking it.”
Source: Dr. Sharon Anderson, PEGASIS researcher
Given that social isolation is a complex concept, some definitions highlight specific elements of the experience that other definitions do not:
“a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships”
(Nicholson, 2009, p. 1346)
“an involuntary, undesired situation where an individual has few social contacts and roles, and is experiencing a lack of rewarding relationships with others”
(Zuran & Liu, 2012)
One in five Canadians aged 65 or older indicated that they felt lonely some of the time or often.
Almost a quarter of seniors over 65 reported that they had no in-person or voice contact with any of their family members (21.2 %) and just over a quarter (26.9 %) had no contact with friends during the past week.
Of those aged 85 years or older – 25% felt lonely some of the time or often.
Social isolation rarely happens because of just one life event or situation. Many factors contribute to an increase in the risk of social isolation for seniors:
Content of this journey map is drawn from in-depth interviews with seniors and senior-serving workers as part of the PEGASIS initiative.
The interviews showed wide variations in personal experiences across a spectrum of factors that influence social vulnerability and social isolation. Although each person’s journey is unique to their situation, there are common issues and conditions that can be linked to social isolation. Findings support the scientific literature which acknowledges the complex and dynamic nature of this subject.
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At all ages, loneliness has a devastating impact on health. Because older adults’ health is more delicate, increases in social isolation can have significantly greater impacts and require more frequent medical interventions. Providing acute care services is more expensive so preventing social isolation can help reduce costs on the acute care system.
Lonely and socially isolated seniors are at increased risk of:
Social costs are also greater. Social isolation reduces older adults’ well-being and quality of life. Socially isolated seniors do not feel valued or have a strong sense of belonging or fulfillment. They are less satisfied with their lives than those who are satisfied with their social contacts.