Research Article

Are elderly people living alone an at risk group?

BMJ 1992; 305 doi: (Published 24 October 1992) Cite this as: BMJ 1992;305:1001
  1. S. Iliffe,
  2. S. S. Tai,
  3. A. Haines,
  4. S. Gallivan,
  5. E. Goldenberg,
  6. A. Booroff,
  7. P. Morgan
  1. Department of Primary Health Care, University College and Middlesex School of Medicine, London.


    OBJECTIVE--To test the hypothesis that elderly people living alone are an at risk group with a high level of morbidity that makes high demands on health and social services. DESIGN--Secondary analysis of data from a community survey of 239 people aged 75 and over, identified from general practitioners' age-sex registers. SETTING--Nine practices in the London boroughs of Brent and Islington. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Scores on the mini-mental state examination; stated satisfaction with life; assessment of mobility; numbers of diagnoses of major physical problems; numbers of prescribed drugs taken; urinary incontinence; alcohol consumption; contacts with general practitioners and hospital outpatient and inpatient services; contact with community health and social services. RESULTS--There were significantly more women among those living alone (93/120 (78%) v 63/119 (53%); p < 0.0005) and the median age of elderly people living alone was higher (81 v 80; p < 0.04). Those living alone and those living with others showed no significant differences in measures of cognitive impairment, numbers of major physical diagnoses, impaired mobility, or use of general practitioner or hospital services. Stated satisfaction with life was somewhat higher in those living alone. Elderly people living alone were significantly more likely to have contact with chiropody, home help, and meals on wheels services and less likely to have someone they could contact in an emergency or at night. Living alone increased the likelihood of contact with one or more community health professionals (district nurses, health visitors, or chiropodists) considered as a group and also increased the likelihood of contact with social services as a whole. There was a tendency for more of those living alone than those living with others to have home visits from their general practitioners, but there were no significant differences in contact with hospital services between the two groups. CONCLUSIONS--Elderly people living alone do not have an excess of morbidity compared with those living with others and do not seem to be an at risk group requiring specifically targeted assessments. More help is needed to provide elderly people living alone with a point of contact in case of emergency.