Giving Compass' Take:

• Researchers in England found that the more social support and connectedness present in the lives of the elderly will lead to more participation in preventative health care. 

• How can services that help senior citizens encourage more social support systems for them?

• Read about the mission of Meals on Wheels addresses the problem of social isolation within the elderly. 

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, immunizations, 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.

“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.

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.

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.

Read the full article about social support and preventative care by Lisa Rapaport at Reuters.