Loneliness Has Very Real Health Costs to Elders

Article excerpt

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), were surprised twice by one study on loneliness and its impact on elders: once, to find that a "feeling" seriously affected elders' health; twice, to find that what they had thought of as a potential risk turned out instead to be more dire than that- loneliness in older adults can predict serious health problems, even death.

Published in June 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine (www.archinte.jama network.com/article.aspxFarticleid =1188033), the findings came from analyzing data from the psychosocial module of the National Institute on Aging's Health and Retirement Study, which was conducted from 2002 to 2008 on 1,604 older adults.

"In our typical medical model, we don't think of subjective feelings as affecting health," said the UCSF study's first author Dr. Carla Perissinotto, an assistant professor in the UCSF Division of Geriatrics. "It's intriguing to find that loneliness is independently associated with an increased rate of death and functional decline.

"We went into the analysis thinking that there was a risk we could find nothing, but there actually was a strong correlation."

The research team was also surprised to learn that elders who expressed loneliness did not necessarily live alone. Fortythree percent of older adults surveyed felt lonely, but only 18 percent lived alone. …