Loneliness and Frailty: What do We Know?
Loneliness and social isolation in older adults may lead to:
- Functional decline
- 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.
- 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!
Tips to avoid social isolation for older adults WITH technology – Canadian Frailty Network
Tips to avoid social isolation for older adults WITHOUT technology – Canadian Frailty Network
- The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging Report on Health and Aging in Canada: Findings from Baseline Data Collection 2010-2015
Innovations Presented at CFN’s Annual Conference
Elders in Motion (p. 29)
National Seniors Council
HelpAge Canada: RISE
Canadian Senior Cohousing
CBC Radio Canada
NWT Recreation & Parks Association
Seniors for Kids Society (Alberta)
Edmonton Social Planning Council
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
Hamilton Seniors Isolation Impact Plan
Toronto Police Service’s Seniors Community Consultative Committee
Andrew, M. K., Mitnitski, A. B., & Rockwood, K. (2008). Social vulnerability, frailty and mortality in elderly people. PLOS One, 3(5), e2232. doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0002232
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 https://www.canada.ca/en/national-seniors-council/programs/publications-reports/2014/social-isolation-seniors/page05.html
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 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2013003/article/11773-eng.htm
Stroh, P. (19 January, 2019). Feeling lonely? You’re not alone—and it could be affecting your physical health. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/national-dealing-with-loneliness-1.4828017
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.