Canadians aged 65 and up are experiencing escalating levels of loneliness and depression as a result of increased isolation during the pandemic, a new B.C. study has found.
Drawing data from a long-term study of 50,000 Canadians, researchers at Simon Fraser University determined the digital divide has put older adults at particular risk of lost connection in recent years.
Women aged 65 to 74 are the most severely affected. Those survey respondents reported a 67 per cent increase in loneliness and a 4 per cent increase in depression, from 19 per cent pre-pandemic to 23 per cent in 2020.
Men in the same age category reported an overall 45 per cent increase in loneliness and 2 per cent increase in depression, from 12 to 14 per cent during the same time period.
Increases were also felt among men and women aged 75 to 84, although to a lesser degree. Together, they reported a 37 per cent increase in loneliness and a 33 per cent increase in depression.
At particular risk in both age categories were those living alone, in lower-income situations, or in rural or remote areas, those living with dementia, and Indigenous, ethnic minority and LGBTQ2S individuals.
SFU researchers Laura Kadowaki and Andrew Wister said part of the cure to the issue is increasing digital literacy and online activities for older adults.
“Participation in virtual group fitness classes can help reduce social isolation and help keep older adults healthy. Ensuring all Canadians have access to low-cost home internet and free internet in public spaces should be a priority,” Wister said.
Social activities and befriending programs should also be more widely available by phone, the researchers said, noting that there is an opportunity there for youth and older adults to connect.
Finally, they pointed to increasing staff levels and quality of life in long-term care homes as a priority for governments at all levels.
Long-term funding and a coordinated response are musts, they said.