Older people are 50% more likely to visit A&E if they live alone than if they live with someone else, a study has found.

One in five people aged 65 or older who live alone visit their GP at least once a month, compared with around one in seven of those living with someone else, amid increased concern about loneliness and isolation among the elderly.

Researchers believe there is potential to reduce pressure on strained A&E departments and GP services by treating loneliness, which can increase the likelihood of depression and heart disease.

The study of 1,447 older people by the Health Foundation charity showed that mental health conditions were more prevalent in those living alone at more than one in four, compared with one in five for those living with another person.

“Today’s findings underline the fact that older people living alone have poorer health than those living with others, as well as more intensive health care needs,” said Kathryn Dreyer, principal data analyst at the Health Foundation.

“With the number of older people living alone set to continue to grow, more needs to be done to help people stay healthy and to offer more support and care in the community.

“An estimated nine million people across the UK, almost a fifth of the population, report feeling lonely, greatly increasing their risk of poor health.

“We welcome the support for social prescribing set out by the Government already and hope to see further measures to address social isolation and loneliness in the forthcoming NHS long-term plan.”

The findings come as similar research published by University College London showed regular visits to the cinema, theatre or museums could dramatically reduce the chances of older people becoming depressed.

Hospital(Peter Byrne/PA)

Those who participated in such activities every few months had a 32% lower risk of developing depression, while people who attend once a month or more reduce their risk by almost half (48%).

“Depression is a major issue affecting millions of people,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr Daisy Fancourt.

“If we are starting to feel low or isolated then cultural engagement is something simple that we can do to proactively help with our own mental health, before it gets to the point where we need professional medical help.”

In October, the Prime Minister announced an extra £1.8 million for community projects, such as creating new community cafes, art spaces or gardens, for social prescriptions that would reduce loneliness, demand on the NHS and improve patients’ quality of life.

Sophie Andrews, chief executive of The Silver Line, said: “These findings chime with what we know at The Silver Line. As the only national 24/7 helpline for lonely older people, we know that many of our callers have mental health problems caused by their isolation. They feel they have nowhere to turn; we often feel like out-of-hours social care.

“It is vital the Department of Health and Social Care recognises loneliness as the public health crisis it is, and puts proper money in to services which help alleviate it.”