Loneliness in Canadian seniors an epidemic, says psychologist

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

CBC Radio · Posted: Sep 20, 2016 9:49 AM ET | Last Updated: September 20, 2016

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New research in Canada is showing that our elderly population is growing increasingly lonely and isolated.

As spouses and close friends die, and children grow and have their own lives to manage, many older Canadians are finding themselves painfully lonely.

So much so that some are calling it a public health crisis — one that affects everything from a person's mental health to their immune system.

According to Statistics Canada, as many as 1.4 million elderly Canadians report feeling lonely. It's a number clinical psychologist Ami Rokach knows all to well. He studies loneliness and says lonely seniors are a serious public health issue and related health effects are at epidemic levels. "People who are 80 years and older say that up to 80 per cent of the time they feel lonely — it's a major problem," Rokach tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Loneliness itself doesn't directly cause health problems but Rokach explains that depression, desperation, feeling unappreciated and unwanted can cause seniors to neglect their health or resort to unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, drinking or not taking their medication.

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"I was shocked recently to find out that... up to 25 per cent of the elderly who fall and break a leg in the western world, die." Rokach

says. "Those who are not lonely have a much better chance to survive that those who are lonely."

Rokach tells Tremonti that beyond depression and general psychological distress, health issues such as hypertension, sleep disturbances, and even dementia are worse when someone is lonely. "Loneliness contributes even to death — it's that significant."

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