Social Isolation: The Issue

Social isolation is associated with higher levels of depression and disability related to chronic diseases, increased rates of premature death, and decreased overall well being.

Social support contributes to a higher quality of life, increased life satisfaction and enhanced mental and physical well-being.

Staying connected with one’s community ensures people feel cared for.

Supportive relationships established through social connections work to encourage healthier behaviours and provide additional opportunities for support.

Older people who are socially connected are more likely to eat well and to engage in physical activity, both of which reduce the risks of falls. Older people who have an adequate diet and who are physically active are more able to participate socially.

Organizations, communities at large and older adults can help to prevent social isolation, defined as less social contact than an individual wishes, and that may lead to negative outcomes such as poor health, loneliness or other emotional distress.

Anyone can become socially isolated but seniors are especially at risk of social isolation. Too many changes too close together can increase the challenge to cope at a time when fewer personal and social resources may be available.

The Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) Ministers Responsible for Seniors, through research and consultations, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) Ministers Responsible for Seniors Working Group on Social Isolation, recognizing that social isolation is a significant risk for seniors with serious consequences, has developed a toolkit to assist organizations and public programs to screen existing and planned programs and practices for their impact on social isolation.

The purpose of toolkit (Working Together for Seniors (see resources, below) is to:

(1) provide information and data about social isolation amongst seniors, (2) suggest ways that organizations can promote social inclusion, (3) provide a tool that can be used to screen existing and planned programs and services, for their impact (positive or negative) on social isolation.

Identifying factors that impact on social isolation will enable organizations to eliminate barriers to seniors’ social participation and to proactively facilitate participation. Even if programs are not specifically designed to address social isolation, supporting seniors’ strengths, enhancing social networks, removing barriers to social participation, and fostering social inclusion will have positive impacts for both individuals and society.

Excerpt from href="http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/seniors/initiatives/connections.html" target="_blank">Working Together for Seniors A toolkit to promote seniors’ social integration in community services, programs and policies. Prepared by Penny MacCourt for the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors, November 2007; Retrieved January 2009.

Resources

Review of Federal/Territorial/Provincial Services and Policies and Analysis of Impact on Social Isolation on the key features of programs and policies that may reduce social isolation of older people.
The report provides a comprehensive scan of the key features of a variety of programs and policies likely to have positive effects on social isolation among older people. The report identifies opportunities for all levels of government and communities to support the enhanced social integration of older people.

Keefe, J., Fancey, P., Andrew, M., and Hall, M. (2006). A profile of social isolation in Canada. Prepared for Federal/Provincial/ Territorial Committee of Officials (Seniors). Retrieved January 2009.

B.C. Ministry of Health of Health, Children’s, Women’s and Senior’s Health Branch (2004) Social isolation among seniors – An emerging issue. Retrieved January 2009.

Social Isolation Workshop Report (2004) . Retrieved January 2009.