Human beings are social animals. We live with others, we communicate with each other, and we support and cooperate with each other, which may have given us an evolutionary advantage. When a person doesn’t have others to be with, they become socially isolated, which is something older adults are at a greater risk of experiencing due to widowhood, smaller social networks, family moving away, aging siblings, and friends who have passed away. In 2017, Statistics Canada reported that 1 in 5 older adults were lonely, felt they lacked company, or felt abandoned or isolated.
Loneliness is often discussed in conjunction with social isolation, and the terms are often used interchangeably in everyday language. However, researchers have pointed out that the two concepts need to be differentiated. Whereas social isolation arises in situations where a person does not have enough people to interact with, an objective state, loneliness is the subjective experience of distress over not having enough social relationships or not enough contact with people. Although the two concepts can be related, a person can be socially isolated but not feel lonely, whereas an individual with a seemingly large social network can still experience loneliness.
Whether actual or perceived, social isolation can have real impacts on the overall health and well-being of older adults. In fact, social isolation is linked with increased death, dementia, depression, and risk of elder abuse. The good news is that there are several things you can do to decrease social isolation, such as engaging in social activities, optimizing your mobility, leaning on technology, and more. Engaging in social interactions and activities during the ongoing global pandemic should always be done in line with current public health guidelines. Refer to the Government of Canada website for more information.
To learn more about social isolation, its risk factors, and the things you can do to reduce it, explore our resources below, including our newest interactive E-Learning lesson.