Storm Clouds over Saskatchewan field and tracks

With the imposition of social distancing requirements in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, a growing concern is the impact of isolation, particularly among seniors. A new study from Statistics Canada finds seniors who are isolated are more likely to report poor health — and face a higher risk of death.

The study, which began with a survey in 2008-2009, found that people who report low levels of community involvement don’t live as long as those who are more connected.

At the start of the study, 12% of people aged 65 and older reported feeling socially isolated.

Over the following nine years, the research also found that those who reported lower social involvement were at greater risk of dying.

Approximately 33% of the men and 26% of the women who participated in the original survey died during the following nine years. So-called “low participators” died sooner than those with more community involvement.

“For example, the average survival time for women who were low participators was approximately eight months shorter than those who were high participators,” the study said.

For women, the study also found “a significant association” between feeling isolated and dying earlier.

“Seniors who felt socially isolated were more likely to report ill health, which in turn increased their risk of death over the following nine years,” the study noted.

The relationship between social isolation and mortality persisted when socio-demographic characteristics and other factors were taken into account.

The study noted that the impact of social isolation on health and mortality are likely complex.

“For example, low participation could reflect deficits in social networks, mobility problems, lack of transportation, geographic isolation or other factors — such as hearing or vision loss — that can be obstacles to social participation,” it said.

“Feelings of isolation could be the result of a loss or change in relationships caused by death or separation, physical and mental health problems, ageism, and other factors that leave people feeling lonely and isolated from the community,” it added.

In addition to documenting the connection between social isolation and mortality, the study stressed that “it also highlights the importance of seniors returning to their activities and social interactions after the pandemic to avoid long-term social isolation.”