Loneliness has strong impact on premature death
Study finds that loneliness among the elderly just a strong a factor as poverty in early deaths
Seniors, without a spouse and isolated from other people often feel lonely. A new study has now found that those who feel lonely are at a 14 percent higher risk of premature death. In fact, loneliness has as much impact on early death as much as poverty, which increased the chances of dying early by 19 percent.
Cacioppo and colleagues reviewed survey responses from more than 2,100 adults, 55 years and older in the Health and Retirement Study. The researchers controlled for age, gender, socioeconomic status, objective social isolation and poor health behavior.
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Cacioppo found that feeling lonely and isolated from others can lead to less restful, restorative sleep, raise blood pressure, cause morning increases in the stress hormone cortisol, increase depression and lower the overall feeling of living a meaningful life. "Poor quality of sleep hastens aging," he added.
While some people are happy to be alone, th4e majority of the population thrives in social situations where they enjoy support and rapport with others.
Cacioppo, co-author of "Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connections," says that people "can escape the clutches of loneliness as they age" by staying in touch with former colleagues, maintaining meaningful relationships and participating in family activities. "People underestimate the importance of sharing good times with friends and family.
"What's really important are companionship and mutual assistance and protection. Having high-quality relationships with a few people is one of the keys to happiness and longevity. The stresses and challenges of life are more easily endured if we can share them with someone in whom we can confide and trust."
Loss of mobility, loss of hearing and blindness, are all contributing factors in the isolation of the elderly, he says.
Many seniors dreams of retiring to another state "isn't necessarily a road map to happiness if it means you lose the relationships you developed over a lifetime," Cacioppo says. But the elderly will benefit if you develop new friendships in the new location, he says.
"Maintaining quality relationships, engaging in meaningful activities with others and practicing healthy behaviors increase the odds of a long and happier life.
"Older adults who maintain meaningful, satisfying relationships weather life's stressors to emerge happier, healthier and wiser than people who do not," he says.
Psychologist Joe Burgo, agrees. "Human beings are social animals, expressing our sense of who we are via relationships, both personal and professional. As we grow older, many of those relationships come to an end. We retire from our jobs and often lose touch with colleagues. Our children may relocate. Friends or family members die.
The author of "Why Do I Do That?" and the founder of afterpsychotherapy.com, Burgo says that feeling connected with others is important to people. "Not only do we grieve and feel lonely without these people in our lives, but our very sense of self is challenged," he says. "That's why it's critical to remain active and engaged in your world, tending old friendships and forging new ones, taking part in group activities that connect you to other people."
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