Examining social isolation and loneliness in combination in relation to social support and psychological distress using Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging (CLSA) data

PLoS One. 2020 Mar 23;15(3):e0230673. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230673. eCollection 2020.


Background: Although a large body of research has focused on social isolation and loneliness, few studies have examined social isolation and loneliness together. The objectives of this study were to examine: 1) the relationship between four groups derived from combining social isolation and loneliness (socially isolated and lonely; only socially isolated; only lonely; neither socially isolated nor lonely) and the desire for more social participation, and social support; and 2) the relationship between the four groups and psychological distress.

Methods: The study was based on the Comprehensive Cohort of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Using CLSA baseline data (unweighted N = 30,079), ordinary and logistic regression analysis was used to examine the cross-sectional relationship between the four social isolation/loneliness groups and desire for more social participation and four types of social support (tangible, positive interaction, affection, and emotional support). Prospective logistic regression analysis was possible for psychological distress, which was derived from the Maintaining Contact Questionnaire administered about 18 months after the baseline questionnaire (unweighted N = 28,789).

Results: Findings indicate that being socially isolated and lonely was associated with the most social support gaps; this group also had an increased likelihood of psychological distress, relative to those who were neither socially isolated nor lonely. Participants who were only socially isolated, and those only lonely also perceived some social support gaps. In addition, the only lonely group was more likely to be psychologically distressed than the only socially isolated group and the neither isolated nor lonely group.

Conclusion: Examining the four social isolation/loneliness was useful, as it provided more nuanced risk profiles than would have been possible had we examined social isolation and loneliness separately. Findings may suggest avenues for interventions tailored to the unique needs of at-risk individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Distress*
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Social Support*