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Living Alone Is A Heartbreaker

Loneliness Is Linked To Cognitive Decline And Death



**We're kicking off a two part series on the dangerous combination of loneliness and aging. Today you'll learn about aging, cognitive decline and death. Tomorrow, we'll present an article about loneliness and cardiovascular disease.**

Loneliness can kill, new research suggests. According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, loneliness can lead to mental decline and death in people over 60 years of age. Such findings underscore the integral role that social interactions play in human health.

Researcher Carla M. Perissinotto from the Division of Geriatrics at the University of California at San Francisco and colleagues studied the relationship between loneliness, loss of cognitive ability and death in older US adults. It is through their investigation they learned some sad facts about the effects loneliness has on the elderly.

They began by selecting 1604 people with mean age 70.9 years for participation in the Health and Retirement Study. Perissinotto and her colleagues began assessing participants every two years beginning in 2002 and ending in 2008. During these assessments participants were asked if they felt left out, isolated or lacked companionship.

The primary outcomes of the 6 year study were time to death and functional decline through four specific measures including difficulty increasing difficulty in performing activities of daily living (ADL), increasing mobility problems, increasing difficulty in using their upper extremities and increasing difficulty climbing stairs. You should notice that each measure is looking at how loneliness makes life increasingly difficult to the point of death.

Well, that's precisely what happened to some of the people participating in the study. In fact, over 6 years of follow-up, loneliness was associated with 22.8% risk of death versus 14.2% for people who were not lonely. Loneliness also affected people in others ways:

  • 24.8% of lonely people experienced decline in active daily living compared to 12.5% for people whom were not lonely
  • 41.5% of lonely participants experienced difficulty performing upper extremity tasks compared to 28.3% for participants who did not report being lonely
  • 40.8% increased risk of difficulty climbing stairs compared to 27.9% for not lonely participants
  • 38.1% of lonely participants experienced mobility decline compared to 32.8% of participants whom were not lonely.


Loneliness Hurts, Loneliness Kills

You don't have to be a statistician to see what is happening. The Health and Retirement study proves that loneliness is linked to cognitive decline and death. As they gradually age, lonely people have greater difficulty getting around and performing daily tasks. Loneliness can also kill. In the Health and Retirement Study, the people who reported feeling lonely experienced isolation, exclusion and felt as if they had no friends. 

The elderly are particularly susceptible to feelings of isolation because they're often left out of activities that younger generations often take for granted. It's important to remember that people can be surrounded by others and still feel lonely. Perissinotto said that many of the people whom were reportedly lonely were either married or did not live alone. So it goes deeper than merely being in the company of others.

Humans are social creatures. We need connections and personal involvement to make our lives feel worthwhile.

Perissonotto and her colleagues say questioning elderly people about loneliness could potentially spot those at risk for poor health outcomes.

"Ultimately, by asking about psychosocial concerns important to patients, our treatment focus may shift, and we will likely enhance the physician-patient relationship. By identifying loneliness we will be better able to target interventions intended to prevent functional decline and disability." the team said at the conclusion of their report.

Essentially it comes down to taking the time to check up on other people. Everyone, regardless of age needs to know that someone cares about them. Showing compassion might just save a life.

Next time we'll look at what loneliness can do to the human heart.


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Article Source

Perissinotto CM, Stijacic Cenzer I, & Covinsky KE (2012). Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and DeathLoneliness in Older Persons. Archives of internal medicine, 1-7 PMID: 22710744


"Loneliness Is Linked To Cognitive Decline And Death" copyright © 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.



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