SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) — Loneliness can be especially debilitating for the elderly and may predict serious health problems and even death, U.S. researchers say.
First author Dr. Carla Perissinotto, assistant professor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics, said the research team used data in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study by the National Institute on Aging conducted on 1,604 older adults — mean age 71 — from 2002 to 2008.
Perissinotto said one of the more surprising finding was loneliness did not necessarily correlate with living alone.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found 43 percent of surveyed older adults felt lonely, yet only 18 percent lived alone.
“We are interested in identifying the different factors that cause adults to become functionally impaired and ultimately at risk for nursing home admission,” Perissinotto said in a statement. “The aging of our population and the greater odds of institutionalization make it important for us to think about all the factors that are putting elders in danger, including social and environmental risks.”
The study found people who identified themselves as lonely had a statistically significant 59 percent greater risk of decline. For death, loneliness was correlated to a 45 percent greater risk of death, the study found.