Dalhousie University


Research / Projects
Social Vunerability

Social vulnerability refers to a variety of factors that make people susceptible to illness, disease, the decline in ability to do things for themselves, or even death.  The factors, or a combination of factors, that may cause this to occur include poor education, low income, lack of family supports, social isolation, not being able to participate in community activities, living in a community with high unemployment, and few opportunities for socializing.

Who is socially vulnerable? Elderly people are often more vulnerable than younger people. By the age of 85 or 90 you may have outlived many of your family members and friends. This, along with the factors listed above can lead to people being less physically and mentally well. We have looked at data from more than 7,000 Canadians aged 65+ and found that everyone in that group had some level of social vulnerability with women more so than men. At present it is not clear why.

Why is this important?  In working to understand the impact of social vulnerability we have compared it to mortality in the study group.  For each additional social vulnerability factor a person had, the likelihood of death increased from 5 - 8%. We also learned that the older a person is, the higher their level of social vulnerability.  From this we can see the impact of social vulnerability in elderly people is an issue that can’t be ignored.

What’s next? Work in understanding all the factors involved in social vulnerability is ongoing. We look forward to understanding the differences that occur based on gender, and other factors, and we hope to create a measure that will allow us to understand how vulnerable a patient is. Creating such a tool will allow physicians to know whether or not a patient may need more assistance or resources to help improve both their social circumstances and ultimately their health. 



Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine