Social isolation is linked to a heightened risk of hospital admission for respiratory disease among older adults, say researchers, adding that this risk is independent of other potentially influential factors, such as general health and lifestyle.
According to the study, published in the journal Thorax, social isolation and loneliness are associated with admission to hospital for various health conditions, but it's not clear if socially isolated adults with respiratory conditions might also be at risk.
To explore this further, the researchers at University College London in the UK linked up hospital records and death statistics for 4,478 people taking part in the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA), a nationally representative long term study of older adults.
Social isolation was measured in terms of whether that person lived alone or not (domestic isolation); how much social contact they had with friends and family (social isolation); and how much social engagement they had, including with volunteering, cultural activities, and involvement with community groups.
Information on potentially influential factors such as underlying health conditions, smoking and physical activity levels was also gathered.
After taking account of potentially influential factors, loneliness and levels of social contact with friends and family weren't associated with a heightened risk of admission.
But living alone and poor social engagement were associated with, respectively, heightened risks of 32 per cent and 24 per cent, the study said.
In a bid to explain the associations they found, the researchers said that people who are socially isolated may be more physically inactive and smoke more, and less likely to be prompted to see a doctor when symptoms first appear.
"Older adults living alone with existing lung conditions may benefit from additional targeted community support to try and reduce the risk of hospital admissions," the researchers suggested.
"The roll-out of social prescribing schemes may present opportunities for referring those individuals to social engagement community activities," they concluded.