Subjective social isolation or loneliness in older adults residing in social housing in Ontario: a cross-sectional study Academic Article uri icon

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  • Background

    Older adults face greater risk of social isolation, but the extent of social isolation among low-income older adults living in social housing is unknown. This study aims to explore the rate of, and risk factors contributing to, subjective social isolation or loneliness among older adults in social housing.


    We conducted a cross-sectional study of data collected from a community program held in the common rooms of 55 social housing buildings in 14 communities across Ontario, Canada, from May 2018 to April 2019. Participants were program attendees aged 55 years and older who resided in the buildings. Program implementers assessed social isolation using the 3-Item Loneliness Scale from the University of California, Los Angeles and risk factors using common primary care screening tools. We extracted data for this study from the program database. We compared the rate of social isolation to Canadian Community Health Survey data using a 1-sample χ2 test, and evaluated associations between risk factors and social isolation using univariate and multivariate logistic regressions.


    We included 806 residents in 30 buildings for older adults and 25 mixed-tenant buildings. Based on the 3-Item UCLA Loneliness Scale, 161 (20.0%) of the 806 participants were socially isolated. For those aged 65 and older, the rate of social isolation was nearly twice that observed in the same age group of the general population (36.1% v. 19.6%; p < 0.001). Risk factors were age (65-84 yr v. 55-64 yr adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1.99, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.01-3.93), alcohol consumption (adjusted OR 2.45, 95% CI 1.09-5.54), anxiety or depression (adjusted OR 6.05, 95% CI 3.65-10.03) and income insecurity (adjusted OR 2.10, 95% CI 1.24-3.53). Protective factors were having at least 1 chronic cardiometabolic disease (adjusted OR 0.44, 95% CI 0.24-0.80), being physically active (adjusted OR 0.47, 95% CI 0.30-0.73) and having good to excellent general health (adjusted OR 0.60, 95% CI 0.39-0.90).


    The high rate of social isolation in low-income older adults living in social housing compared with the general population is concerning. Structural barriers could prevent engagement in social activities or maintenance of social support, especially for older adults with income insecurity and anxiety or depression; interventions are needed to reduce subjective social isolation in this population.

publication date

  • July 2021