Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors


Social isolation is a prevalent phenomenon that has a substantial impact on many aspects of the lives of seniors. As Canada’s population experiences a profound demographic transition via the aging of the baby boom cohortFootnote 49  coupled with rising life expectancies, the importance of this issue will likely increase in coming years. Proportionately more older Canadians may be at risk of social isolation due to increased chance of living alone, having compromised health status, changing family structures, death of family members or friends, and retirement.

In recognition of the value of seniors’ engagement in communities and Canadian society, the Government of Canada directed the National Seniors Council to examine the social isolation of seniors and explore ways to prevent or reduce it.

At the outset, Council members recognized the complexity of the task at hand. Social isolation is difficult to define due to its multifaceted nature and its overlap with other social concepts, loneliness in particular.

Nonetheless, through consultations with key players from the not-for-profit, public and private sectors, and seniors, as well as through a review of the literature, Council members have identified risk and protective factors that could be addressed to prevent or reduce the social isolation of seniors and enhance social engagement. While there is a wide range of initiatives helping to address the issue, there remain many gaps and areas for improvement. Local communities and government already play a fundamental role in this area and provide the building blocks for further initiatives.

The Council believes this report provides the Government of Canada with practical ideas for consideration and possible action. A summary list of the suggested measures appears in Annex F.

Finally, following its consultations, the Council believes more understanding is needed of:

  • links between the mental health and loneliness/social isolation of seniors;
  • cultural challenges that inhibit the social engagement of seniors (e.g. for immigrant seniors, Aboriginal seniors, and seniors living in official language minority communities); and,
  • challenges faced by senior caregivers.

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