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Medicineworld.org: Few friends combined with loneliness

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Few friends combined with loneliness




Eventhough not having a number of close friends contributes to poorer health for a number of elderly adults, those who also feel lonely face even greater health risks, research at the University of Chicago suggests. Older people who are able to adjust to being alone don't have the same health problems.

The study is the first to examine the relationships between health and two different types of isolation. Scientists measured the degree to which elderly adults are socially connected and socially active. They also assessed whether elderly adults feel lonely and whether they expect that friends and family would help them in times of need.



Few friends combined with loneliness

"Social disconnectedness is linked to worse physical health, regardless of whether it prompts feelings of loneliness or a perceived lack of social support," said co-author of study Linda Waite, the Lucy Flower Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago and a leading expert on aging.

However, the scientists found a different relationship between social isolation and mental health. "The relationship between social disconnectedness and mental health appears to operate through feelings of loneliness and a perceived lack of social support," Waite explained.

Elderly adults who feel most isolated report 65 percent more depressive symptoms than those who feel least isolated, regardless of their actual levels of connectedness. The consequences of poor mental health can be substantial, as deteriorating mental health also reduces people's willingness to exercise and may increase health-risk behaviors such as cigarette smoking and alcohol use, Waite explained.

Among the study's findings:
  • The most socially connected elderly adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health in comparison to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.
  • Elderly adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.
  • Social disconnectedness is not correlation to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Elderly adults who are able to withstand socially isolating circumstances or adjust their expectations so they do not develop strong feelings of loneliness may fare better, the study suggests. "We need to better understand how elderly adults adapt to changes in their social relationships," Waite added.

The work is published in the article, "Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation and Health Among Older Adults," reported in the recent issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, a quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association. Waite conducted the study with main author Erin York Cornwell, a Postdoctoral Associate in Sociology at Cornell University who completed her Ph.D. in Sociology at Chicago in 2008.

For their research, the scholars examined the results of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, a nationally representative study of elderly adults supported by the National Institute on Aging. The study, a comprehensive look at aging and health, included interviews with about 3,000 people aged 57 to 85 between 2005 and 2006.

Because of the size of the survey, the scholars were able to consider in detail elderly adults' social networks, their participation in social activities, their feelings of loneliness and their perceptions of the availability of help or advice from friends and family members. They also asked questions about physical health, mental health and feelings of sadness or depression.

The work should help policymakers develop programs to compensate for the problems brought on by social disconnectedness and loneliness among older people.

Aging often brings changes in social relationships as individuals retire, take up new activities, endure losses and experience health changes, the authors said.

"For some elderly adults, a shrinking circle of friends and family can lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation. Our findings suggest that those who adapt to losses so that they don't feel isolated fare better with respect to both physical and mental health," Cornwell explained.


Posted by: JoAnn    Source




Did you know?
Eventhough not having a number of close friends contributes to poorer health for a number of elderly adults, those who also feel lonely face even greater health risks, research at the University of Chicago suggests. Older people who are able to adjust to being alone don't have the same health problems.

Medicineworld.org: Few friends combined with loneliness

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