Aging and social isolation

Social isolation: what is it, how is it problematic, when is it not a problem, and how to break social isolation.

Bill from Jacinthe Bertrand, Communications Coordinator, Polio Quebec

Some measure a society's success by its economic growth, others by its level of education or its health care system. I believe that a society's progress can be measured by the place it leaves for its elders.

Quebec in 2018 had more than 1.5 million individuals aged 65 and over.[1] An article from Le Devoir reported that one in three seniors in Quebec lives alone, the same proportion would have no contact with their family in a week, and one in five said they had no close friends.[2] Are Quebec seniors suffering more and more from social isolation? In this post, I will try to demystify for you what this concept is, how it can be problematic, in which cases aging alone is not a problem, and how to break social isolation.


The little lexicon of social isolation

According to the FADOQSocial isolation is the significant decrease in the number, frequency and quality of social interactions. Situations of social isolation are complex and differ from one individual to another since they can be short-term, for example in the case of a person who has just lost his or her spouse and who withdraws into himself or herself while mourning, or long-term in the case of a retiree who does not invest in other activities and therefore gradually loses his or her social network.

It is important to note that social isolation, loneliness and living alone are three completely different things. It is possible to feel lonely even if we are surrounded if our social relationships are not of good quality. Another person could live alone without necessarily being socially isolated if he or she is involved in associations, has activities and goes out with friends.

Social isolation has many risk factors. These include having little financial means, being childless, having physical, cognitive or sensory limitations, moving, losing one's driver's license, not feeling safe in one's neighbourhood, etc.[3]


The consequences of social isolation

Obviously, social isolation has negative consequences on well-being when it leads to feelings of loneliness. This can lead to a loss of self-esteem or a feeling of worthlessness. However, in addition to the psychological distress caused by this scourge, studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness have a significant impact on physical health, as do obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and smoking. Isolation leads to an increase in cardiovascular problems, as individuals have a higher resting heart rate and an exaggerated rise in blood pressure.[4]

FADOQ reports a significant number of health consequences, including reduced life expectancy, undernutrition, sleep disorders, declining cognitive abilities, etc. And a major problem that arises from this is that by being isolated, sufferers are less likely to seek help. And a major problem that results from this is that people who suffer from it are less likely to seek the help they need because of their isolation.[5]


The other side of the coin

Is social isolation inevitable? Should we resign ourselves to finding ourselves there one day? Of course not. As mentioned earlier, a person can live alone and have very limited social relationships, but not suffer from it.

The Chair on Aging conducted a study entitledAging and living aloneThe majority of respondents identified that living alone "is not a tragedy in itself. The majority of respondents identified that living alone "is not a tragedy in itself.

So why are a disturbingly high number of seniors suffering from social isolation? One of the study participants summed up the answer to this question very well, "Aging can be scary if society leaves us on a parallel path. The important thing for me is that we are seen as active citizens."[6]

An interesting element is the fact that aging is not experienced in the same way in the city or in the regions. When you are close to a major center, it is easier to get around because there are more methods, and it is also easier to have access to local services. However, regions have the advantage of having a greater sense of community. Therefore, it may be easier to find a support network outside the family.


How to break social isolation

If you are feeling lonely and want to remedy the situation, there are several options available to you.

Stay active

Work is a huge part of our lives, so retiring can be a big void. That's why it's important to get involved in other activities to connect with others. If Bingo is too much of a cliché for you, there are plenty of sports and activities that are accessible to people with disabilities. Through the Folio Polio, we have already told you about liquid gym or the yoga through laughterbut you can find many leisure activities on directories of associations.

Do yourself a favor

Neighborhoods are a great opportunity to get out of isolation. If you are able, offer to help your neighbors! This will give you a great opportunity to talk with them and keep yourself busy. If you can't do the lawn mowing or shovelling, consider smaller services like watching the kids while the neighbor goes to the grocery store.

Stay informed

News is such a great conversation starter. By staying informed about regional, national and international news, you will be able to start a discussion with your neighbors, your hairdresser, shopkeepers. Who knows, by sharing your point of view, you may discover new ways of thinking!

Participate in the life of the association

No matter what your interests are, there is sure to be a related association that you can get involved with. Not only does this allow you to help others and feel useful, but it also allows you to make new connections. You can meet people who have the same passions as you or who have similar backgrounds. For example, the Polio Quebec Association is always open to welcoming participants to its board meetings. If you would like to get involved, contact us to indicate your interest and we will send you the details of the meetings.

Call on Little Brothers

If you are not interested in any of the above solutions, or are unable to implement one, you may want to consider the Little Brothers family. This is a community organization where people with free time decide to visit seniors to spend time with them. All Little Brothers must go through a screening and background check process. For more information, visit their website.



[1] Institut de la statistique du Québec. Quebec population by age and sex

[2] Collective text. Le Devoir. Social isolation of the elderly, a real human waste

[3] FADOQ. Social isolation of seniors in brief.

[4] Dr. Martin Juneau. Prevention Observatory; Montreal Heart Institute. Social isolation, an important risk factor for premature mortality.

[5] FADOQ. Ibid

[6] Charpentier, M., Soulières, M. and Kirouac, L. Research Chair on Aging and Civic Diversity. Aging and living alone.