Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Overcoming Loneliness with Living Time, Tenacity Can Help Soften the Pangs of Loss in Later Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Overcoming Loneliness with Living Time, Tenacity Can Help Soften the Pangs of Loss in Later Life

Article excerpt

This story includes information from the New York Times News Service. Estelle Shyres doesn't use fancy words to describe her experience.

When her husband, Melvyn Shyres, died of cancer six years ago, she lost her best friend.

Then she stopped eating and lost her health.

Her ailment: loneliness.

But as Shyres, 74, and others know, life needn't end with the loss of someone. Loneliness can be overpowered.

Recent medical studies show that:

Loneliness among the elderly is a better predictor of mortality than blood pressure. That's from a study done at the University of Iowa.

In the year after divorce or separation, people are more vulnerable to infectious disease. That's from studies done at Ohio State University College of Medicine.

But study after study also shows that the elderly are the least lonely age group. Why? Daniel W. Russell, a psychologist who worked on the University of Iowa's study, said they accepted the inevitability of losses.

Loneliness comes in two strains.

At the root of one is lack of an emotional partner, usually a spouse.

At the root of the other: lack of a milieu - a place where a person has a right to be, such as work or a neighborhood filled with friends and acquaintances, said Robert S. Weiss, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts.

Weiss' theory explains why someone who lacks a mate can be lonely when surrounded by family and friends.

Weiss said loneliness was very different from depression. Depression resists change. When good things happen to people who are depressed, their feelings remain the same. They perceive the experience as negative.

A lonely person's mood lifts at the hope of attachment, Weiss said.

When Shyres' husband died, she lost her companion and confidante of 47 years. The couple had eaten out together every night, because Shyres never liked to cook. They traveled - five trips to Mexico and a trip to Israel. And "we talked about everything," she said.

During the year after her husband's death, Shyres developed diabetes. She refused to leave her home, in St. Louis County. Despite the best efforts of her daughter, Susan Frank, 44, of Creve Coeur, her mother's spirits remained down. …

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