Social isolation is not only a psychological burden for older adults; it may have an outsized effect on healthcare use, a new study has found.

Researchers compared rates of healthcare visits in the 12 months following a survey of more than 18,500 Medicare Advantage beneficiaries aged more than 65 years. Participants who reported social isolation were significantly more likely to be admitted to a hospital or emergency department in the future, said lead investigator David Mosen, Ph.D., MPH, of Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. What’s more, the link between social isolation and care utilization remained significant, even after adjusting for demographic and clinical measures, he said.

Past studies have found that social involvement may act as a buffer to stress, wrote Mosen and colleagues. “In the absence of this social support, older adults may have poorer health and put off care until illness becomes critical,” they wrote.

In addition, without others to help them seek care and transport them to scheduled appointments, isolated elders may rely on emergency departments to serve as referral systems for non-emergent care, they added.

The study is published in the journal Population Health Management.

In related news

Bill would require long-term care providers to help prevent social isolation: A bill being considered in New Jersey would require long-term care operators to develop plans to prevent residents from becoming isolated during public emergencies, reports McKnight’s Senior Living. Senate Bill 2785, sponsored by state Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) would require the state Department of Health to implement and oversee an “Isolation Prevention Project” in assisted living communities, personal care homes, residential healthcare facilities, dementia care homes and nursing homes during public emergencies.