Residents of long-term care facilities located in neighborhoods with high percentages of older adults who live alone are at risk of increased isolation and mortality, according to a first-of-its kind study.
Providers operating in such areas may need to make extra efforts to keep residents connected with their family and friends, said the authors of the study, published in the JAMA Network Open.
The research included 730,524 U.S. long-term care residents and sought to characterize their social isolation, often defined as the loss of personal connection to family and friends outside the facility, since long-term care facilities by definition have multiple residents. Although the study did not necessarily include senior living communities (it focused on post-acute care facilities and nursing homes), co-author Becky Briesacher, Ph.D., from Northeastern University in Boston, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the findings could have implications for senior living, as “social isolation can negatively impact the health of senior citizens regardless of type of living situation.”
The researchers found that residents of long-term care facilities located in neighborhoods with the highest levels of social isolation had a 17% increased mortality risk in the first 30 days compared with residents of long-term care facilities located in less isolated areas. And long-term care facilities in the United States were approximately eight times more likely to be located in neighborhoods with the highest percentage of individuals aged 65 years or older living alone compared with neighborhoods with the lowest percentage.
Barriers to visitation, such as travel time to the facility and access to transportation, were substantial factors in creating socially isolated neighborhoods, according to the study. The authors noted that most socially isolated long-term care facilities are located in the Midwest — something they said warrants further investigation.
“There may be a need for special attention and strategies to keep [long-term care] residents connected to their family and friends,” the authors wrote. “Such measures could eventually contribute to improved health trajectories in the U.S. population that is increasingly aging and at growing risks for entering [long-term care] facilities.”