Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors


The Canadian population is aging. According to demographic projections, the number of people aged 65 or over could double in the next 25 years. This is due in large part to the aging of the baby boom cohorts and extensions in life expectancy. On average, today’s older adults are living a more active, healthier and financially secure life than the past generations. Nonetheless, seniors have an increased risk of living with a chronic condition, disability or mental health issue. Another serious social problem affecting seniors in Canada is abuse of older adults. There is also a rise in the number of older Canadians who provide ongoing care and assistance as informal caregivers for family members and friends in need of support. Furthermore, families are becoming smaller and geographically dispersed, which has an impact on the size and accessibility of seniors’ support networks.

According to a 2012 International Federation of Aging report commissioned by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC)Footnote 1 , the number one emerging issue facing seniorsFootnote 2  in Canada is keeping older people socially connected and active.

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 relationshipsFootnote 3 . Social isolation is different than loneliness, which is the senior’s perception of a lack of interaction or contact with othersFootnote 4 . Social isolation increases the likelihood of loneliness, but a person can perceive being lonely even when in the company of others.

Although knowledge and data about social isolation of seniors in Canada are limited, existing findings demonstrate that many older Canadians are socially isolated or at risk of becoming so. In a Statistics Canada 2012 Health Report, almost one in four adults over the age of 65 (24%) reported that they would have liked to have participated in more social activities in the past year. Statistics Canada’s 2008/09 Canadian Community Health Survey found that 19% of individuals aged 65 or over felt a lack of companionship, left out, or isolated from others. Also, according to a 2006 study conducted by Dr. Janice Keefe, over 30% of Canada’s seniors are at risk of social isolation.

Social isolation has also been identified as a significant issue in past National Seniors Council reportsFootnote 5 .

The National Seniors CouncilFootnote 6  was directed in August 2013, to consult with seniors, key players from the not-for-profit, public and private sectors to assess how social isolation affects seniors and explore ways to prevent and reduce social isolation of seniors in Canada.

The objective of this report is to share the input received through the Council’s consultation efforts on the issue and provide advice in the form of suggested measures for federal consideration that could help to prevent and reduce social isolation of seniors in Canada.

The report is divided in three main sections:

  • Consultation Process
  • Consultation Highlights
  • Suggested Measures

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