Social isolation can be deadly for older adults

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In a new study from Yale, researchers found socially isolated older adults who enter intensive care units (ICUs) are more likely to die and are at increased risk of disability after discharge compared with those who are more connected to family and friends.

They found patients over 65 are more likely to have functional problems such as problems dressing or walking after discharge from a hospitalization that included an ICU stay.

More than one in three of those who experience few social connections die within three years of discharge, a rate three to five times higher than the general older adult population.

In the study, the team looked at data from patients participating in the National Health and Aging Trends study who were admitted to intensive care units between 2011 and 2018.

Participants were asked questions about their social interactions, such as whether they talk with family or friends about important matters, visit with family members or friends, and participate in social events or church. Levels of social isolation were ranked from 0 to 6.

The researchers found each increase in social isolation scores corresponded to an increased risk of functional disability and death.

The most socially isolated older adults had a 50% higher burden of functional disability in the year after ICU admission and a 119% greater risk of death.

The team says after older patients are discharged hospital staff could make sure they receive weekly phone calls from volunteers or arrange transportation to appointments.

Also, social workers can help enroll the elderly in programs that facilitate social engagement. Hospitalization may be the only chance of identifying people who are socially isolated

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The study is published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. One author of the study is Dr. Lauren E. Ferrante.

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