Understanding loneliness and social isolation

Loneliness and social isolation are important topics affecting many older adults, but did you know they are not the same thing? Social isolation means you do not have enough people to interact with, whereas loneliness is how you think about or perceive your situation. Someone who feels lonely may have family and friends nearby, but still experience feelings of loneliness. It is also important to note that loneliness is not the same as depression.

The feeling of loneliness can be transient, in relation to life events, but it can also persist when declining physical and cognitive capacities prevent seniors from seizing opportunities to socialize. Loneliness can have implications for one’s health, in part because of reduced mobility. Loneliness can be as strong a risk factor for dying prematurely as smoking, obesity or lack of physical activity. Mental health implications can include low self-worth and negative thinking.

Healthcare and social care professionals, friends, family members and neighbours can help to reduce social isolation by first identifying isolated older adults. They can also help to break the cycle of loneliness by seeking to understand a person’s circumstances and why they may be feeling lonely. For individuals who are isolated, joining groups in the community and volunteering may help broaden their environment and provide opportunities for social engagement.

Read our resources below to learn more about loneliness and social isolation and how you can help a loved one who may be experiencing either.


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DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website

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