Socially-isolated older adults are likely to be sicker and die sooner and have higher health care expenses than seniors who retain their social connections. A new study by researchers from the AARP Public Policy Institute, Stanford University, and Harvard finds that Medicare spends an estimated $6.7 billion more each year on seniors who have little social contact with others.
About 14% of study participants were identified as socially isolated, which meant they had little contact with adult children, other relatives, or friends. They were more likely to be male, white, live in cities, and have lower incomes and wealth than those with better social links. They were also more likely to have depression, difficulties managing daily activities, and have at least five chronic conditions. Interestingly, people who were married were just as likely to be isolated as singles. The study looked only at those 65 and older who were living in the community.
The study found that Medicare spent about $1,600-a-year more on older adults who are socially isolated than those who are not. They were one-third more likely to require care in a skilled nursing facility, perhaps because they could not be safely discharged home after a hospitalization. And while they were no more likely to be hospitalized, their stays were more costly — also perhaps because they could not be discharged as quickly as others because they had no family supports.