LISA RAPAPORT Older peo­ple with more friends do bet­ter at pre­ven­tive health: Study

Business Standard - - ECONOMY - 29 Septem­ber

Older adults with big­ger so­cial net­works of fam­ily mem­bers and close friends may be bet­ter at stay­ing on top of rec­om­mended pre­ven­tive health screen­ings and check­ups than their more iso­lated peers, a UK study sug­gests.

Re­searchers sur­veyed 5,362 adults born in 1946 in Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales about their so­cial re­la­tion­ships 24 times over sev­eral decades, un­til they were aged 68 to 69 years. Par­tic­i­pants also re­ported how of­ten they en­gaged in rec­om­mended pre­ven­tive health ac­tiv­i­ties like rou­tine check­ups, im­mu­ni­sa­tions, vi­sion and den­tal ex­ams, blood pres­sure and choles­terol as­sess­ments and can­cer screen­ings.

By the time they were 68 to 69 years old, 2,132 peo­ple were still alive and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the study, and 44 per­cent were up to date on all rec­om­mended pre­ven­tive health ser­vices and screen­ings.

At this point in life, peo­ple who weren’t mar­ried or liv­ing with a ro­man­tic part­ner were 33 per­cent more likely to be be­hind on at least some pre­ven­tive ser­vices and screen­ings than peo­ple who were mar­ried or co­hab­it­ing, the study found.

Par­tic­i­pants who had few close friends were 51 per­cent more likely than those with larger so­cial net­works to be be­hind on pre­ven­tive health ser­vices and screen­ings.

“It sug­gests that if we can in­ter­vene to get peo­ple more so­cially con­nected, then there may be ben­e­fits for their pre­ven­tive health care use,” said lead study author Mai Stafford of the Health Foun­da­tion in Lon­don.

“This is im­por­tant for pa­tients be­cause tak­ing up op­por­tu­ni­ties for check­ups like bowel and breast can­cer screen­ing, flu jabs and blood pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing can help pre­vent se­ri­ous ill­ness and may ul­ti­mately pro­long life,” Stafford, who did the re­search while at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don, said by email.

So­cial iso­la­tion has long been linked to poorer phys­i­cal and men­tal health as peo­ple age. The cur­rent study of­fers fresh ev­i­dence that the qual­ity and quan­tity of close so­cial re­la­tion­ships, and shifts in these re­la­tion­ships over time, may in­flu­ence how much peo­ple fo­cus on pre­ven­tive health, the au­thors write in The Lancet Pub­lic Health.

In the study, peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced in­creas­ing qual­ity in their so­cial con­nect­ed­ness from ages 53 to 69 were 7 per­cent less likely to fall be­hind on pre­ven­tive ser­vices and screen­ings than those who had con­sis­tently lim­ited so­cial net­works.

Over this same span of time, peo­ple who had con­sis­tently high lev­els of so­cial con­nect­ed­ness were 9 per­cent less likely to fall be­hind on pre­ven­tive ser­vices and screen­ings than those with lim­ited so­cial net­works, the re­searchers also found.

The study wasn’t a con­trolled ex­per­i­ment de­signed to prove whether or how so­cial re­la­tion­ships di­rectly im­pact use of pre­ven­tive health ser­vices. It’s also pos­si­ble that these par­tic­i­pants in a long-term re­search co­hort were more ac­tively en­gaged in their health­care than the over­all pop­u­la­tion in the UK, the study au­thors note.

Even so, there are many rea­sons why peo­ple may have di­min­ished so­cial con­nec­tiv­ity later in life - in­clud­ing wid­ow­hood, loss of work and so­cial roles, and ill­ness and disability — that might con­trib­ute to peo­ple fall­ing be­hind on rec­om­mended pre­ven­tive health ser­vices and screen­ings, said Gail Moun­tain, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Sh­effield and author of an ac­com­pa­ny­ing ed­i­to­rial.

“The ram­i­fi­ca­tions of any one of these fac­tors is ev­i­dent,” Moun­tain said by email.

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