Living alone puts the life of one in four Americans at risk, according to a new study published Friday JAMA network open.
Researchers from UC San Francisco found that an estimated 25% of US citizens with dementia or other mild cognitive impairments are at risk of mixing up medications, driving unsafely, walking around outside the home, and even missing doctor appointments.
The study authors concluded that the healthcare system in the United States is “ill-equipped” to care for people living alone suffering from some form of cognitive decline.
“For these patients, living alone is a social contributor to health, with implications as profound as poverty, racism, and low education,” said lead author Dr. Elena Portacolone from the UCSF Institute for Health and Aging and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, in a opinion.
Also, as this demographic gets older, the numbers will only continue to increase in a situation they liken to “sending a kid down the freeway to play.”
In conducting the study, researchers interviewed 76 healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses, home care workers and social workers. These respondents worked in “memory clinics, home care and social services” in California, Michigan and Texas.
Many providers expressed concerns about their patients living alone, as some of them could not remember why specific appointments were made or did not return follow-up calls.
Some didn’t even have an emergency contact on their medical records, didn’t have a friend to call in an emergency, or were unable to fill in missing medical information or paperwork.
This is making some patients increasingly “prone to falling off the radar” and causing doctors to fail to understand how fast some patients’ decline has been.
The same patients were also “at risk of untreated illness, self-neglect, malnutrition, and falls,” according to medical providers.
One vendor recalled only having to send a customer home with a taxi voucher, which he likened to letting children play on a busy street. Others were discharged from the hospital without a “support system”.
According to Portacolone, the study’s findings are indicative of the country’s healthcare system, which “does not provide subsidized home care assistance to all but the lowest-income patients.”
“In the United States, an estimated 79% of people with cognitive decline have incomes that are not low enough to be eligible for Medicaid-subsidized home care assistance in long-term care,” she said, explaining that the highest allowance for a Der Price of a single person in California is $20,121 per year.
Medicare is available to adults over the age of 65, but subsidized home help is usually only provided to those who have had an “acute episode” such as hospitalization.
“At a time when Medicare will be spending millions of dollars on newly approved drugs with very little benefit, we must remember that Medicare and other payers are refusing to pay far less money to provide the support needed to at-risk people with dementia said senior author Kenneth E CovinskyMD, MPH, from the UCSF Division of Geriatrics.
This isn’t the first study to look at the effects that being alone can have on a person.
In July, a Tulane University study found that loneliness can be worse for patients with diabetes than some health problems, such as depression and smoking.
Meanwhile, in June, new research from the American Cancer Society found there may be a link between cancer survival rates and those with a strong group of people around them.