Living alone is devastating for over-65s’ healthRuth Mabhiza
THE impact of isolation is laid bare in research showing that older people who live alone are 50 per cent more likely to end up in A&E than those living with someone else.
Nearly half of over-65s who live alone have three or more long-term health conditions
Analysis shows those aged 65 and over with no one for company are much more likely to be admitted to hospital as an inpatient. About a fifth of older people living alone visit their GP at least once a month, compared with 14 per cent of people who cohabit. Nearly half of over-65s who live alone have three or more long-term health conditions, compared with 42 per cent who live with others.
Findings by the Health Foundation also reveal one in four older people living alone has a mental health condition.
Kathryn Dreyer, of the independent charity, said: “The findings underline the fact that older people living alone have poorer health than those living with others, as well as more intensive health care needs.
“With the number of older people living alone set to continue to grow, more needs to be done to help people stay healthy and to offer more support and care in the community.
“One in three older people in the UK lives alone and is at increased risk of social isolation and loneliness which is known to be as harmful as being obese and can increase the likelihood of depression and heart disease.
“While some people choose to live on their own, others may not have a choice, for example when their partners dies or family lives far away.” As many as nine million people across the UK, almost a fifth of the population, report feeling lonely.
The Daily Express Respect For The Elderly crusade has lifted the lid on how millions of OAPs are suffering in silence.
The crisis has seen The Silver Line, Britain’s only 24-hour telephone helpline for lonely older people, besieged by callers who simply need the comfort of a human voice.
The charity, which was set up in 2013 by Dame Esther Rantzen, 78, has now taken 2.2 million calls but demand is so high it is only able to answer four out of every five calls.
The link between living alone and increased use of NHS services remains unclear but it could be that people need more help due to a lack of immediate support at home.
The foundation’s report suggests tackling social isolation could cut pressure on over-stretched A&E departments and GP surgeries.
Laura Alcock-Ferguson, of the Campaign to End Loneliness, welcomed the findings. She said: “There are over 2.2 million people aged 75 and over living alone in Britain – an increase of almost a quarter over the past 20 years. Urgent preventative action is needed to meet the needs of this group. Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
About a fifth of older people living alone visit their GP at least once a month
“It is no surprise older people living alone will be visiting their GP more and are more likely to end up in A&E. We also know that some visit the GP simply to have someone to talk to. Our research found that for £1 invested in loneliness interventions, up to £3 can be saved in health costs, which could represent significant savings for the NHS.”
Naomi Phillips, of the British Red Cross, said: “It is critical for Government and the NHS to work in partnership with communities to find practical ways to tackle loneliness and prevent people of all ages from becoming chronically lonely, which we know can have a devastating impact on their mental and physical health.”
Caroline Abrahams, of charity Age UK, said: “Increasing numbers of older people are ageing alone so we have to provide the help and services they need and not assume there will always be a willing family member around to step in.”
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