For the majority of seniors living alone, it is better to recover from an acute illness at home rather than in a long-term care facility.
That’s according to a recent study by researchers at UC San Francisco. The study looked at data from 4,772 adults who were part of the Health and Retirement Study, which tracked changes in health among those transitioning from work to retirement.
UC San Francisco researchers investigated whether older people with identifiable support are less vulnerable to health shocks, which means hospitalization, re-diagnosed with cancer, stroke, or seizure cardiac. The researchers focused on people aged 65 and over, living alone and responsible for managing their activities of daily living.
Generally speaking, older people who live alone are more likely to have health problems.
“Seniors who live alone are an at-risk population,” the authors wrote in the study. “Studies have shown that living alone is predictive of a wide range of health problems. Whether it’s a poor outcome from cardiovascular events, an increase in depressive symptoms, or a higher rate of all-cause mortality, living alone is an indicator of risk.
In fact, 63% of seniors who lived alone experienced a health shock.
Overall, the researchers found that older people who had a friend or relative who could help them with their personal care, in cases where they were hospitalized or were newly diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, were less likely to need institutional care.
In fact, having the necessary support reduced the risk of an extended retirement home stay over a two-year period from 14.2% to 10.9%, according to the study.
Despite the positive impact of support for care, around 38% of older people living alone do not have a friend or relative who would be able to help them with a serious health problem.
While many older people have the ability to live on their own and take care of themselves, that changes when they experience a serious health problem, according to Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, a clinician-scientist in the Geriatrics Division of the United Kingdom. ‘UCSF and one of the study’s authors.
“They may have been able to walk unaided, shower, get dressed and manage their medication, but after a health shock they can’t do it anymore,” he said in a press release.
Over the years, seniors have expressed a preference for aging in place. The study reinforces the idea that this is possible with the right ongoing support for care.
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The study results also indirectly highlight the importance of home care providers and the role that caregivers play in reducing hospital readmissions and improving overall health outcomes.
UC San Francisco researchers are calling for more cities to roll out programs that would connect older people who need home support with professional caregivers. Researchers also emphasize the merits of programs and policies that support informal caregivers.
“Programs that support informal caregivers can benefit seniors and insurers and recognize the complex, unpaid work of families and friends who help seniors stay in the community,” the researchers wrote. “For example, an analysis of the California Paid Family Leave Act found that even just 6 weeks of mandatory paid leave reduced retirement home stays among seniors by 11%.