Social isolation in older adults who are frequent users of primary care services.
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OBJECTIVE: To describe older adults who are frequent users of primary care services and to explore associations between the number of primary care visits per year and multiple dimensions that define social isolation. DESIGN: Mailed, cross-sectional survey. SETTING: An urban academic primary care practice in Kingston, Ont. PARTICIPANTS: Forty patients aged 70 years and older who attended 12 or more appointments in the previous year with residents, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, or registered practical nurses. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Social isolation (size of close social network, loneliness, satisfaction with social participation, frequency of social participation), past and future need for health services related to social issues, and health and functional variables. RESULTS: The participants reported relatively low levels of loneliness, with a mean (SD) score of 4.1 (1.3) out of 9. Overall, 18.9% of participants reported having a small close social network, 45.9% of participants wanted to do more social activities, and 57.5% of participants were isolated according to at least 1 indicator. Some participants (23.1%) had received primary care services related to social issues, and most participants (54.5%) wanted these services in the future, including receiving information about other health services or community resources, or having discussions about loneliness, relationships, or social activities. Number of primary care visits was not associated with any of the 4 indicators of social isolation. CONCLUSION: Social isolation in older, frequent users of primary care services might be more common than previously thought, particularly the aspect of dissatisfaction with social participation. Expanded primary care services and referrals to other services might help to address this population's desires for services related to social issues. Future research could examine the social needs of older primary care attenders and the feasibility of providing related interventions in primary care settings.
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