Those 85+ at high risk of social isolation, study finds

Suggesting one way in which senior living communities can offer a solution to an aging-related issue, new research published in the journal Social Policy and Society finds that people aged more than 85 years are significantly more likely to suffer social exclusion than those aged 65 to 84.

In a study of more than 10,000 people aged more than 65 years, social policy researchers found that the so-called “oldest old” living in the community — defined as those 85 and over — have more trouble accessing services such as healthcare and food shops, with 16% reporting “significant” problems compared with only 4% of their younger counterparts. And women were found to be less likely to be able to access services than men.

The study, led by social policy researchers at two institutions in England, the University of Lincoln and Sheffield Hallam University, found that whereas only 17% of respondents aged 65 to 84 said they do not go out socially, the percentage increased to almost half of those in the oldest old bracket. Women in that age group were less likely to go out with friends, but interestingly, rural respondents were more likely to go out than urban residents.

The older respondents also were less likely to go out socially even when cohabitating, suggesting that those in that age group are at greater risk of social exclusion regardless of whether they live alone, researchers said. Similarly, 19% in the 85-and-older age bracket reported that was “very difficult” to visit family when they needed to, compared with 9% of those in the younger age bracket.

“We examined whether this risk was down to declining health among this age group, yet the analysis shows that those aged 85 and above are still at greater risk of social exclusion even if we take poor health into account,” said first author Wesley Key, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the University of Lincoln.

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