Pensioners who live on their own have a 50 per cent greater chance of visiting A&E than those who reside with family members, according to a new study. The report by the Health Foundation also discovered that they upped the risk of being admitted as an inpatient, as well as making a trip to the GP.
The think tank said that overall, elderly people living alone had more long-term health issues than those with company. This is backed up in official figures that suggest nine million people in the UK report feeling lonely, which equates to nearly a fifth of the country’s population.
Social isolation is linked to poor health and experts have warned that those who live on their own are much more likely to be affected by it. The advice, therefore, is to tackle the roots of social isolation in order to cut the pressure on hospitals and GP services.
In the UK, one in three over-65s lives on their own and this proportion is only likely to grow, as the country deals with an ageing population. Of course, living with family is not the only way for elderly people to have company, as residential homes also offer a sense of inclusion.
Kathryn Dreyer, of the Health Foundation said: “Today's 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.”
The study took 1,447 elderly people into account and found that 21 per cent of the individuals living alone go to their GP once a month at least. This proportion dropped to 14 per cent for those living with somebody else.
When it comes to long-term complaints, the findings showed that half of those who live on their own had three or more such issues. In comparison, 42.2 per cent of elderly people living with relatives or friends had these conditions.
It’s not just physical ailments either, with one in four older people living on their own suffering from mental health problems. For those living with others, this drops to one in five, demonstrating the many impacts being alone can have.
This is not the first time that social isolation has been monitored, with pre-existing research suggesting living alone and not having strong friendships is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. On top of this, the likelihood of having a stroke is increased by 32 per cent.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told the Mail: “It's understandable that those without friends, family or support networks turn more frequently to their GP or local hospital for help - they probably feel they have no other option.
“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.”