Socially-isolated elderly people more likely to have a fall, research finds

Elderly people who live alone and have little social contact with others are more likely to experience falls, research suggests.

Social isolation is associated with a higher risk of reporting a fall and receiving hospital treatment following such an incident, according to a study by University College London (UCL).

The researchers are calling for further studies to explore whether lockdown and social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic have led to more falls among older people.

Researchers analysed data from 13,061 participants aged 60 and over, collected between 2002 and 2017 as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) survey.

They analysed self-reported data on falls and records of hospital admissions related to a fall, where they were available.

More than half (51%) the participants experienced falls and 9% went to hospital as a result.

Elderly people
Elderly people

Those living alone had an 18% higher risk of reporting a fall than those residing with a friend or relative.

People with the least social contact were 24% more likely to report a fall than those with most social interaction, and were 36-42% more likely to be admitted to hospital.

This was after taking into account socioeconomic and health and lifestyle factors such as education, social class, any long-standing illness, mobility, vision, depression and physical activity.

There was also a link between loneliness and a risk of falling, but this was accounted for when lifestyle factors were considered.

The authors write: “This suggests that it is objective social isolation rather than the subjective appraisal of one’s social relationships that is important.”

They suggest living with another person and frequent social contact may reduce the risk of falling by alleviating stress and allowing risks to be identified.

For example, a relative may identify a trip hazard, help with housework or encourage an older person to take their medication.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.