Study Links Social Isolation with Health Risks in Elderly

by Lois Etienne on November 19, 2010

in Senior Health and Safety

Spokane SeniorsWhile not having many close friends contributes to poorer health for many older adults, those who also feel lonely face even greater health risks. This study found that older people who are able to adjust to being alone don’t have the same health problems.

This University of Chicago study is the first to examine the relationships between health and the two different types of isolation. Researchers measured the degree to which older adults are socially connected and socially active. They also looked at whether they felt lonely and whether they expect friends and family would help them in times of need.

“Social disconnectedness is associated with worse physical health, regardless of whether it prompts feelings of loneliness or a perceived lack of social support,” said study co-author Linda Waite.

Among the study’s findings:

  • The most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health, compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.
  • Older 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 related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Older 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 older adults adapt to changes in their social relationships,” Waite added.

This study reinforces the importance of the companionship Home Instead Senior Care provides clients.

For more information or to get answers to your questions, please contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office.  We can be reached — anytime day or night – by calling Spokane: 509.835.5898, North/South King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties: 800-4SENIORS (800-473-6476). You can also email us at loisetienne@homeinsteadnw.com

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