Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors

Consultation Process

The National Seniors Council (NSC) used a variety of consultation approaches to engage stakeholders in the discussion. These included: regional roundtables, individual meetings with key stakeholders, a scoping review, an online consultation and a national roundtable to validate the findings.

The purpose of the consultations was to better understand:

  • the impact social isolation has on seniors’ quality of life, including their mental health;
  • the factors that increase or decrease the risk of a senior becoming socially isolated, including critical life transitions;
  • promising approaches (and best practices) to preventing and/or reducing social isolation of seniors; and,
  • the role the Government of Canada could play in preventing and/or reducing the social isolation of seniors in Canada.

Throughout the consultation process and regardless of the consultation approach being undertaken, a core set of questions was used to guide the consultations. By using a standard set of questions, NSC members ensured consistency in information gathering and focus their engagement efforts. The core consultation questions are:

  • What factors increase the risk of a senior becoming socially isolated?
  • What factors decrease the risk of a senior becoming socially isolated?
  • What promising approaches (or best practices) exist to help prevent and/or reduce the social isolation of seniors?
  • What more could be done to help prevent and/or reduce the social isolation of seniors?
  • What could the Government of Canada do to help prevent and/or reduce the social isolation of seniors in Canada?

Consulted Stakeholders

In total, 305 stakeholders accepted the NSC’s invitation to participate in the consultations: 83 representatives participated in the regional roundtables, Council members met with 22 organizations for individual meetings, 179 individuals completed the online consultation questionnaire, 9 submitted written responses using the consultation questionnaire, and 12 experts and national level stakeholders participated in the national roundtable. A list of consulted stakeholders is attached as Annex C.

Participating stakeholders included seniors, representatives of community or non-profit organizations, private service delivery organizations, government agencies (e.g. community public health services) and key experts in relevant fields of study or work. Annex D describes the characteristics of consulted stakeholders.

Regional Roundtables

The roundtables were held in:

Text description: Regional Roundtables
Location Date
Whitehorse, Yukon March 5, 2014
Vancouver, British Columbia March 3, 2014
Regina, Saskatchewan November 29, 2013
Toronto, Ontario November 6, 2013
Montreal, Quebec December 10, 2013
Moncton, New Brunswick February 4, 2014

The NSC used the following criteria to select roundtable locations: type of community (remote, rural or urban), ethnic diversity, presence of Aboriginal seniors and immigrant seniors, proportion of older adults over the age of 65 years living in the community, regional and official languages representation. There were between 10 and 16 participants for each roundtable and NSC members facilitated the discussions.

The Minister of State (Seniors) provided opening remarks during the Regina, Saskatchewan, roundtable. Staff from the NSC Secretariat (housed within ESDC) attended all roundtables to take notes and to provide logistical and other supports. Representatives from the Public Health Agency of Canada also attended all roundtables as observers and note takers.

Participants were provided with reading materials in advance to help them prepare for the roundtable. Their package included:

  • the agenda and consultation objectives;
  • a one-page overview on the topic social isolation of seniors to set the context;
  • the list of core consultation questions to reflect upon before their participation in the discussions; and,
  • information about the National Seniors Council.

The half-day roundtables were led by NSC members and followed a consistent agenda:

  • Introduction of participants
  • Brief presentation of background information on the topic to set the context
  • Facilitation of discussions based on the four consultation questions 

Meetings with Stakeholders

NSC members also took advantage of the regional roundtables to meet with local organizations. The meetings involved targeted stakeholders, experts, and academics, unable to participate in the roundtable sessions, who were identified as leading innovative initiatives, relevant research projects or providing services to socially isolated seniors.

These meetings allowed members to capture promising practices and understand the needs of organizations currently addressing the issue of social isolation.

Online Consultation

An online consultation was led to reach a broader range of stakeholders as well as to consult directly with seniors, community or non-profit organization leaders, and key experts representing the different geographical parts of the country including urban, rural and remote communities.

From June 16, 2014, to July 4, 2014, stakeholders were invited to participate in the online consultation. Invitations were sent to individuals who had participated in the regional roundtables or met with Council members during the current or past NSC consultations, as well as organizations who have received federal funding for projects related to the social inclusion or social isolation of seniors.

Alternative formats were offered for those who preferred to submit their responses in paper format. The questionnaire is attached as Annex E.

National Roundtable

The NSC hosted a national roundtable on July 16, 2014, involving key experts and national level stakeholders to validate the preliminary findings from the Council’s regional and online consultations.

The national roundtable’s agenda was designed to facilitate broad policy discussions within the federal context. A summary of the preliminary findings was shared with participants in advance of the national roundtable. Two short presentations were made to set the context and tone for the discussions. Federal representatives provided an overview on the federal realm of responsibilities and the Council chairperson provided an overview of the NSC’s thoughts and findings from their consultations. Following these presentations, participants provided initial views, in a large group setting, on the preliminary findings, validating the information and then broke off in smaller groups to identify potential measures for federal consideration to address the issue of social isolation among seniors.

The Minister of State (Seniors) provided opening remarks during the national roundtable.

Scoping Review

Recognizing the need to obtain a broader understanding of social isolation before strategies could be developed to help mitigate the effects, the Council led a scoping review of the literature.

The scoping review intended to help the Council:

  • define and describe key parameters of social isolation of seniors (including potential overlap with other concepts such as loneliness, social capital, marginalization, etc.);
  • list and prioritize the principle causes (changeable and non-mutable) and consequences of social isolation;
  • identify programs and services that specifically address social isolation among older adults.

The review involved a systematic selection, collection and summarization of existing knowledge relating to the social isolation of seniors in broad thematic areas to identify which were well covered and where there were gaps. The process started with a list of 214 documents identified using pre-determined search terms that broadly touched upon social isolation. Fifty-two articles remained in the review after the application of screening criteria. Each article was summarized and a table used to chart the literature. A final document was prepared to concisely and comprehensively present the content and results of the selected literature.

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