Alert1 August 2021 Newsletter

Do Loneliness and Isolation Increase Falling in the Senior Population?

Do Loneliness and Isolation Increase Falling in the Senior Citizen Population

The effects of loneliness and social isolation are more far-reaching than the average person might assume.  A study published in December 2020 from the University College of London has found that loneliness and social isolation are associated with higher rates of falling in the senior population.

A Pew Research Center study revealed that older adults in the U.S. are more likely to live alone than anywhere else in the world. Older adults in other parts of the world will often live with extended or immediate family in the later stages of their lives. About 12 million seniors live alone in the U.S., but only around 30% of seniors living alone say they are financially comfortable, making a fall-induced hospital visit inaccessible or, in some cases, completely unaffordable for many older Americans.

What does this mean for American seniors? A lack of care and companionship directly impacts not only seniors’ mental health, but their physical health, too. The University College of London’s study makes it clear that loneliness and social isolation are related to higher rates of falling.

American Seniors and the Benefits of Aging in Place

American seniors have a few options for later-in-life living situations. Some older adults are able to live with other family members, some pay monthly or yearly fees to live in senior living communities, and others choose to age in place. “Aging in place” means living in your own home as you grow older. There are many benefits to aging in place. The comfort of living at home, flexibility of independence and freedom, and cost savings for individuals and families are among the reasons that some American seniors choose to grow old in their own homes. 

At least 28% of the senior population lives alone. For those elderly adults who live alone, there is an increased risk for both isolation and not receiving immediate help if they fall. At Alert1, our medical alert systems can support you or your loved one no matter where you choose to live.

Risk of falling should not prevent seniors from aging in place. There are associated risks of independent living, just as there are with community living. If you choose to grow older in your own home, you should make sure to have a support system available in case of emergency. A medical alert system provides an invisible team of emergency responders on stand-by 24/7/365, accessible with just one push of a button.

A support system for seniors aging in place could include:

  • Senior companionship services
  • Delivery services (food, laundry, etc.)
  • Housekeeping services
  • Driving services
  • At-home and/or on-the-go medical alert systems

Study Finds Loneliness and Social Isolation Associated with Fall Risk

Loneliness and social isolation adversely affect physical health, and may even increase the risk of premature death. The impact of isolation on mental and physical health is far beyond feelings of sadness. This study out of the University College of London is among the first to directly tie senior loneliness and isolation to fall risks. The researchers used the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and Hospital Episode Statistics to inform their conclusions. Their study investigated the longitudinal association between loneliness, social isolation, and falls.

The data focused on older adults in England. Fall data included self-reported falls and falls requiring hospitalization. The University College of London study gives us a fuller picture of how these social factors influence fall risk and response by focusing on both frequency and outcome of falls. 

According to the study, both living alone and low social contact were associated with a greater hazard of self-reported falls. This association is notable even after controlling for lifestyle, health, and socio-demographic differences. The same correlation rings true for falls that require hospitalization. Older adults are at increased risk of falling if they are lonely or socially isolated.

This research was conducted in England, where just about 3.5 million seniors live alone. This number provides some context for how Americans can interpret this data. As mentioned above, 12 million seniors live alone in the U.S. Because we know it is more likely for American seniors to age in place than seniors in other countries, it is possible that American seniors are disproportionately affected by higher risks of falling. The association between loneliness and social isolation and post-fall hospital visits is just as concerning. If only one-third of older adults in America report feeling financially comfortable, a surprise hospital visit could be a financial stressor.

The study authors left this warning at the end of their abstract, “Our findings were robust to a variety of model specifications.” That is to say: This isn’t a fluke. Social isolation and loneliness increase one’s risk of falling.

With your Alert1 medical alert system, you have access to immediate fall support any time, day or night.

COVID-19 and Seniors’ Mental Health

The University College of London study begins its abstract with this quote: “Loneliness and social isolation have been identified as important predictors of various health outcomes.” The global COVID-19 pandemic gives even sharper context to these findings. This period of fear and loss can be best categorized as a time spent away from loved ones, stripped of crucial support networks. 

For the past 15 months, we have quarantined to keep each other safe. That quarantine, though it prevented the spread of COVID-19, kept many of us in consistent states of social isolation. Older adults and immunocompromised individuals were specifically urged to limit interaction with friends and family. We were asked to forego shopping at the grocery store and to skip holidays with loved ones.

The effects of these restrictions on an already isolated demographic have been devastating. Seniors have experienced this level of loneliness and social isolation long before the pandemic, but the past year and a half have truly been unlike any other. In a University of Michigan poll on healthy aging, 56% of older adults said they felt isolated in June 2020. This number is more than double the number of older adults who said they felt isolated in a 2018 poll on healthy aging. 

This intense isolation not only wears on seniors’ mental health but poses a risk to their safety. Loneliness and social isolation are associated with higher risks of falling. Though the quarantine period is ending for some, the aftershocks of a year of loneliness will not fade overnight. This means the risk of falling will not disappear quickly, either. 

COVID-19 took us by surprise. Though we hope another viral event isn’t on the horizon any time soon, you can never be too prepared. If we have another period of severe isolation, we hope your medical alert system will make you feel more comfortable in your home. Alert1 is always here to help. Some call the isolation of quarantine and devastation of COVID-19 a double pandemic.

Alert1 Supports Isolated Seniors

Alert1 takes the crisis of senior isolation seriously. The impact of loneliness on your health and wellbeing is akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. With the added risk of increased falls, this makes loneliness and social isolation a true threat to seniors’ health

Some solutions for preventing loneliness and social isolation in seniors are:

  • Identify and address signs of social isolation
  • Listen, observe, and give seniors an outlet to express their thoughts and feelings
  • Find social groups in the community or even social media connections 

However, even if these strategies can strengthen someone’s social support system, they will not always prevent a fall. Falls remain a risk even with proper social support and connectivity.

In order to be protected, we recommend always wearing your medical alert system. Many elderly adults are navigating loneliness and social isolation in a post-pandemic world. Your medical alert system can bring security and peace of mind that help is always standing by.

Aging in place is an empowering choice for many seniors. Alert1 provides seniors who are aging in place the comfort of immediate support. Our on-call emergency Command Centers are staffed with highly qualified responders, ready to support you in the event of a fall. 

Find Comfort While Aging in Place

Senior isolation is commonplace in America, even more so than other countries in the world. The University College of London study provides evidence that senior loneliness and social isolation is associated with higher rates of falling. American seniors are at risk of falling when their social networks cannot support them. This issue is currently part of the American aging experience, and Alert1 is here to provide peace of mind while safeguarding your independence. Alert1 medical alert systems can support you as you navigate older adulthood. You can live freely with the comfort of an immediate safety net when you need it. 

The loneliness and social isolation of aging are causing health problems and increased fall risks. At Alert1, we value seniors’ mental and physical health. A medical alert system cannot solve all of the issues associated with senior loneliness, but it can provide you with support in an instant. We are honored you have chosen us as your emergency response provider. We promise that with Alert1 on your side, you will never face an emergency alone.