August 8, 2011 / 1:27 AM / 6 years ago

Living alone after heart attack tied to death risk

3 Min Read

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Living alone after a heart attack is associated with a higher risk of death over the next four years, while a lack of support at home was also linked to a lower quality of life just one year after the attack, according to a study.

While the risk of death one year after a heart attack was about the same among people who lived alone and those who lived with others, after four years the risk of death was about 35 percent higher for people living by themselves, the study in the American Journal of Cardiology said.

"Social support should be an important consideration after a heart attack," said Emily Bucholz, lead research for the study and a student at the Yale School of Medicine.

"Special consideration should be given to ensure patients who live alone receive adequate social support from family, friends and neighbors to improve recovery."

Although the study could not prove that living alone caused earlier death, the team did account for differences between the people living by themselves and those living with others, such as gender, race, marital status and pet ownership.

That's important, because these differences alone can affect well being and the risk of death, said Sharonne Hayes, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

"There are fundamental differences between those who live alone and those who don't. You're comparing apples to oranges," said Hayes, who was not involved in the study.

For example, nearly one-third of the study subjects who lived with others were at a healthy weight for their height, compared to only one-fifth of subjects who lived alone. People living alone also tended to be older and were twice as likely to smoke.

"This study confirms that there are differences between people who do or don't live alone," Hayes added.

Some studies have found that a strong social network, for example, is linked to health. Other research has shown that having a pet is also tied to survival.

In addition to a lack of social support, people living alone may not have the assistance they need to exercise, take their medications or coordinate the logistics of attending doctor's appointments.

Caregivers can reduce the risks that may come with living alone by providing extra support or follow-up care for people who recently had a heart attack, Hayes said.

Heart attack patients who may lack social support need to be proactive in seeking connections among people in their community, workplace or place of worship.

"These things are not going to come to them, so they should seek it out. But people also shouldn't think they're doomed if they are living alone." SOURCE: bit.ly/rmCwur

Reporting by Allison Bond at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies

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