Seniors who experience social isolation after being in intensive care units (ICUs) are at an increased risk of disability and are more likely to die after they have been discharged. This new research compares patients who are more connected to family and friends and those who are alone at home.
Previous studies have found that patients over the age of 65 are more likely to have functional problems such as dressing or walking after discharge from an ICU hospitalization. More than one in three of those who experience few social connections die within three years of discharge. This rate is three to five times higher compared to the general older adult population.
The study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine helps to illustrate the importance of identifying older patients who lack social networks. It is crucial for hospitals to connect these individuals to programs designed to provide isolated individuals support.
Researchers examined data from patients participating in the National Health and Aging Trends study who were admitted to intensive care units between 2011 and 2018. Participants answered questionnaires about their social interactions, including whether they speak with family and friends or participate in social events or church. The participant’s level of social isolation was ranked from 0 to 6.
It was found that for each increase in social isolation, scores corresponded to an increased risk of functional disability and death. Those who were most socially isolated had a 50% higher chance of being functionally disabled in the year after an ICU admission. They also had a 119% greater risk of death.
“Our work is focused on understanding and improving the functional recovery of older adults who survive the ICU,” said Dr. Lauren E. Ferrante, a pulmonary disorder and critical care physician at Yale School of Medicine and senior author of the paper. “We know from prior studies that older adults value functional independence even more than staying alive.”
Researchers suggest that after older patients are discharged from the ICU, hospital staff should make sure they are enrolled in a program to receive weekly phone calls from volunteers or have arranged transportation to appointments. Social workers should also help to enroll the elderly in programs that encourage social engagement.
Hospitalization may be the only chance of identifying some people who are socially isolated, so it is crucial to ensure their needs are properly met once they are discharged. A patient’s medical details are well known and taken care of, but there needs to be more of a focus on their social situation as well.