1 in 5 Canadians identify as being lonely, while 40% of older adults experience loneliness. Older people who experience high levels of loneliness are at an increased risk of becoming physically frail.

Loneliness and Frailty: What do We Know?

Loneliness and social isolation in older adults may lead to:

  • Frailty
  • Functional decline
  • Malnutrition
  • Depression
  • Premature death

Loneliness is the discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships. It is an emotional response to social isolation. It’s thought to be more related to relationship quality rather than quantity (Xia & Li, 2018).

Social isolation, on the other hand, is an objective measure of a person’s lack of social connections or interactions (Xia & Li, 2018).

Loneliness and social isolation can result in heightened rates of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Socially isolated older adults are more at risk of negative health behaviours, including drinking, smoking, being sedentary, and not eating well. On top of this, socially isolated older adults have a higher likelihood of falls and have a four-to-five times greater risk of hospitalization.

Research also indicates that loneliness is now being associated with potentially life-shortening health issues, such as higher blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and mortality.

Depression is a notable risk for older adults who are lonely or socially isolated. The statistics reflect this.

  • 15% of adults 65 years or older and living in the community suffer from depression
  • The percentage of seniors in residential care who have been diagnosed with depression or showed symptoms of depression without diagnosis is higher, at 44%
  • Approximately 50% of people over the age of 80 report feeling lonely
  • Men over the age of 80 have the highest suicide rate of all age groups

While many Canadians admit to being lonely, very few seem to want to discuss it. Stigma often prevents those experiencing intense loneliness from seeking help.

There are many reasons why people find themselves facing loneliness and social isolation. Overcoming loneliness often begins with a willingness to put yourself out there and get involved again with new people. For adults living with frailty, overcoming social isolation often involves more complex social interventions.

From a prevention perspective, staying active and involved in your communities now is one way to guard against social isolation in the future. Be willing to put yourself out there!


  • Volunteer
  • Visit a local seniors centre
  • Take a class: art, computers, cooking
  • Attend fitness classes
  • Join a club: book, bridge, euchre
  • Play online games with friends
  • Plan regular visits with family
  • Be willing to make new friends

Remember, too, that loneliness affects every age group in Canada, so don’t feel limited—you might find volunteering with youth a rewarding experience!

Community Resources for Seniors: Alberta

Community Resources for Seniors: British Columbia

Community Resources for Seniors: Manitoba

Community Resources for Seniors: New Brunswick

Community Resources for Seniors: Newfoundland and Labrador

Community Resources for Seniors: Nova Scotia

Community Resources for Seniors: Northwest Territories

Community Resources for Seniors: Nunavut

Community Resources for Seniors: Ontario

Community Resources for Seniors: Prince Edward Island

Community Resources for Seniors: Quebec

Community Resources for Seniors: Greater Montreal

Community Resources for Seniors: Saskatchewan

Community Resources for Seniors: Yukon


National Seniors Council

Publications and Reports of the National Seniors Council: Social Isolation

HelpAge Canada: RISE

Reach Isolated Seniors Everywhere

Canadian Senior Cohousing

CBC Radio Canada

Getting to Know Your Neighbours? There’s an App for That

B.C. Seniors Build a New Way to Age in Place

NWT Recreation & Parks Association

Elders in Motion Program

Seniors for Kids Society (Alberta)

Edmonton Social Planning Council

Social Isolation of Indigenous Seniors

Connecting Edmonton Seniors

Allies in Aging (British Columbia)

A Friendly Voice: Phone Line (Ontario)

  • Greater Ottawa Area: 613-692-9992
  • Toll-free: 1-855-892-9992
  • Is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

News Story: New Phone Line Lends Lonely Seniors a Friendly Ear

Hamilton Seniors Isolation Impact Plan

Toronto Police Service’s Seniors Community Consultative Committee

Social Isolation of Seniors

Generations United

Resource Library


Recommended Reading

Five Things You Should Know about Loneliness and Its Effect on Older Adults

14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation

Feeling Lonely? You’re Not Alone—and it could be affecting your physical health

How these ‘Golden Girls’ Beat the Odds of Loneliness

Seniors in Ottawa Look to Co-housing to Avoid Isolation

Measuring the Benefits: Companion Animals and the Health of Older Persons Executive Summary

Social Isolation of Seniors: A Focus on LGBTQ Seniors in Canada

Andrew, M. K., Mitnitski, A. B., & Rockwood, K. (2008). Social vulnerability, frailty and mortality in elderly people. PLOS One, 3(5), e2232. doi:

Gale, C. R., Westbury, L., & Cooper, C. (2018). Social isolation and loneliness as risk factors for the progression of frailty: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Age and Ageing, 47(3), 392-397. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afx188

House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988) Social relationships and health. Science, 241(4865), 540–545. doi: 10.1126/science.3399889

National Seniors Council. (20 July, 2016). Report on the social isolation of seniors: Consultation highlights. [Website]. Retrieved from

Perissinotto, C. M., Stijacic-Cenzer, I., & Covinsky, K. E. (2012). Loneliness in older persons: A predictor of functional decline and death. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(14), 1078-1083. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.1993

Ramage-Morin, P. L., & Garriguet, D. (17 July, 2015). Nutritional risk among older Canadians. [Website]. Retrieved from

Stroh, P. (19 January, 2019). Feeling lonely? You’re not alone—and it could be affecting your physical health. CBC News. Retrieved from

Xia, N., & Li, H. (2018). Loneliness, social isolation, and cardiovascular health. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 28(9), 837-851. doi: 10.1089/ars.2017.7312

These are general health guidelines and should not be considered personal medical advice. You should consult your health care provider and discuss each element outlined above to ensure that each element of the AVOID Frailty campaign is personally customized for you.