Aging Well Through Staying Connected


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Healthy transitions

Growing older brings many transitions. Older adults may face feelings of isolation or loneliness that can have an impact on their mental or physical health. But these aren’t an inevitable part of aging. Increasingly, staying connected is seen as vital for maintaining mental and physical health as we age. Working together, we can address the risk by building social connections.

What do social isolation and loneliness mean?

These two terms are often found together. However, they do not mean the same thing. Social isolation can be understood as a measurable lack in the number of relationships a person has. Loneliness is more subjective and can be understood as the feeling we get when our social relationships are lacking in terms of quality or quantity compared with what we expect them to be.

Everyone experiences isolation and loneliness differently. We may not always feel lonely when we’re alone (some of us may feel happier that way), and some of us may need fewer social relations than others in order to feel connected.

However, it’s important to be aware of how we may be at risk of becoming socially isolated or lonely. It’s also important to know how the people we know—spouses, partners, friends, family, neighbours, community members, and professional care partners—may face these challenges.

As we age, we face routine life transitions that can contribute to the risk of becoming socially isolated or lonely. Some of us may face fewer family connections or the loss of a spouse, or fewer ways to connect with our communities. Transitional life events, such as retirement, the death of family or friends, or changes in living arrangements, may contribute to the risk of social isolation and loneliness among older adults. Other contributing factors can include poverty, lack of transportation, gender and sexual identity, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.

Nearly half of Canadians have reported feeling socially isolated, lonely, or both, according to a 2019 Angus Reid survey.

What are the impacts of social isolation and loneliness?

According to the United States Centres for Disease Control, loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of death of 26 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively. This increased mortality risk is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol use disorder, according to a meta-analysis covering decades of studies on the issue.

social isolation and loneliness
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For older adults, social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as dementia, depression and functional decline. Research shows that having a reduced number of social contacts may contribute to a poorer quality of life as we age.

On the other hand, staying connected may mitigate these risks and contribute to better physical and mental health. And just as we may need to pay attention to how our bodies and minds age, we can also find opportunities to renew or find new relationships to boost our social health.

The Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH) has launched a new project to find ways for health and social service providers to look for and address social isolation and loneliness among older adults. The mission of CCSMH is to promote the mental health of seniors by connecting people, ideas and resources. It is the position of the CCSMH that mental illness is not a normal part of aging. All seniors have the right and deserve to receive services and care that promote positive mental health and respond to their mental illness needs.

Raising awareness about social isolation and loneliness

As part of the CCSMH’s Social Isolation and Loneliness Project, we are raising awareness of the risks facing older Canadians and the opportunities for all of us to address them. The project, funded by a private, anonymous foundation, is just one part of a growing wave of engagement that includes health professionals, community and social service professionals, researchers, care providers, and community members.

For instance, the government of the United Kingdom has launched a national campaign to study and address loneliness, and in 2021 the government of Japan appointed a Minister of Loneliness. In Canada, a growing number of health, community, and nonprofit organizations are working specifically to address social isolation and loneliness among older adults, often working with provincial and federal governments and agencies.

How can we address social isolation and loneliness?

Social isolation and loneliness in older adults are a growing health concern that has the potential to impact everyone at some point in time. Together, we can find and share health and community resources with others, including our families, friends, care partners, colleagues, and communities.

This article’s ideas and explanations draw upon “Understanding Social Isolation and Loneliness Among Older Canadians and How to Address It” by the National Institute on Aging and RTOERO Foundation. This resource provides an excellent overview of the challenge and how we can address it.

You can learn more about the Social Isolation and Loneliness project on our website and contact us at

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Seniors’ mental health is a key health and wellness issue in Canada. The CCSMH works to promote seniors’ mental health by connecting people, ideas and resources.


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