In the UK, population screening for unmet need has failed to improve the health of older people. Attention is turning to interventions targeted at ‘at-risk’ groups. Living alone in later life is seen as a potential health risk, and older people living alone are thought to be an at-risk group worthy of further intervention.
To explore the clinical significance of living alone and the epidemiology of lone status as an at-risk category, by investigating associations between lone status and health behaviours, health status, and service use, in non-disabled older people.
Design of study
Secondary analysis of baseline data from a randomised controlled trial of health risk appraisal in older people.
Four group practices in suburban London.
Sixty per cent of 2641 community-dwelling non-disabled people aged 65 years and over registered at a practice agreed to participate in the study; 84% of these returned completed questionnaires. A third of this group, (n = 860, 33.1%) lived alone and two-thirds (n = 1741, 66.9%) lived with someone else.
Those living alone were more likely to report fair or poor health, poor vision, difficulties in instrumental and basic activities of daily living, worse memory and mood, lower physical activity, poorer diet, worsening function, risk of social isolation, hazardous alcohol use, having no emergency carer, and multiple falls in the previous 12 months. After adjustment for age, sex, income, and educational attainment, living alone remained associated with multiple falls, functional impairment, poor diet, smoking status, risk of social isolation, and three self-reported chronic conditions: arthritis and/or rheumatism, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Clinicians working with independently-living older people living alone should anticipate higher levels of disease and disability in these patients, and higher health and social risks, much of which will be due to older age, lower educational status, and female sex. Living alone itself appears to be associated with higher risks of falling, and constellations of pathologies, including visual loss and joint disorders. Targeted population screening using lone status may be useful in identifying older individuals at high risk of falling.