Social isolation is linked to a heightened risk for hospital admission for respiratory disease among older adults, suggests a research published in the journal Thorax.
The study explored modifiable social risk factors among 4478 older adults from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Data were linked with administrative hospital records and mortality registry data (follow-up, 9.6 years). Loneliness was measured using the three-item UCLA loneliness scale.
Around one in 10 (11%) participants were admitted to hospital because of respiratory disease. After taking potentially influential factors into account, loneliness and levels of social contact with friends and family were not associated with a heightened risk for admission. However, living alone and social disengagement increased the risk by 32 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively. This risk was independent of other potentially influential factors, such as general health and lifestyle.
In a bid to explain the associations, the researchers suggest that people who are socially isolated may be more physically inactive and smoke more and are less likely to be prompted to see a doctor when symptoms first appear. Doctors may also be more tempted to admit them to hospital because of the increased risk for falls among those living alone.
“Older adults living alone with existing lung conditions may benefit from additional targeted community support to try and reduce the risk of hospital admissions,” suggest the researchers.
“The roll out of social prescribing schemes may present opportunities for referring those individuals to social engagement community activities,” they conclude.