Danger of falls
Falls are a serious health hazard for older people. At least once a year, about 30-40% of them fall. At least a third of these falls lead to injuries, from minor soft tissue injuries to fractures and concussions. Falls negatively affect physical and mental health, it is the most important factor in death from accidental causes.
There are many known reasons for the increased risk of falls in old age, mainly related to health (visual impairment, limited mobility) and the environment (slippery floor, uncomfortable shoes). Scientists know less about social factors, including loneliness and isolation.
The authors of the new study viewed loneliness and social isolation as different phenomena. Isolation is characterized by an objectively small number of social connections and rare participation in public events. Loneliness is a feeling of isolation, a subjective indicator.
Isolation increases risk, loneliness does not
British scientists analyzed data on four thousand people over the age of 60 who took part in a long-term study of aging. All participants regularly filled out questionnaires, which gave detailed information about the degree of their social isolation and loneliness. During the study, participants were hospitalized for falls more than nine thousand times.
The study found that people who lived on their own fell 18% more often than those who lived with someone. Those with the highest scores on the social isolation scale had a 24% higher risk of falling than those with the lowest scores. At the same time, feeling lonely did not in any way affect the risk of falls.
The risk of falls that lead to hospitalization was even more strongly associated with social isolation. It increased by 23% in the elderly living independently, and in the most isolated – by 36%.
Scientists point out that the study used data collected before the COVID-19 pandemic. They believe that the results of the study have now become especially relevant in connection with the periodic introduction of lockdowns and the requirement of social isolation. According to the authors, new research should show how the current pandemic is affecting the fall of older people.
The study authors urge people to keep in touch with elderly relatives and help them.